MoD shot to pieces by tribunal over ‘knee-jerk’ reaction

The
Ministry of Defence unlawfully discriminated against a female legal officer by
banning her from taking up a part-time judicial appointment because of her
rank, an employment tribunal has ruled.

In
a ruling that described the MoD’s decision as bearing "all the hallmarks
of an institutional knee-jerk reaction to what it saw as the established way of
doing things", the tribunal also decided that Lieutenant Colonel Linda
McGarr had been victimised after complaining about her unfair treatment.

Julie
Mellor, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), which supported the
case, today said: "At a time when there are so few women at senior levels
in the armed services, the MoD needs to be finding ways of expanding rather
than restricting their opportunities.

"Women
are also under-represented in the judicial system generally, a situation which
will not have been helped by the MoD’s policy.

"I
hope the MoD will now review its rules to make sure that other members of the
Army Legal Service are given the opportunity to fulfil this valuable
role."

McGarr
is a legal officer at the MoD Army Legal Service and has worked at the MoD for
the past 15 years. She applied to the Lord Chancellor’s Department in July 2001
for an appointment as a legally qualified part-time member of an Appeals
Tribunal, and was notified that the Army’s policy confines eligibility to
part-time judicial appoints to colonels and above. 

The
policy was slightly amended in July 2002 to allow people of her rank to apply
for part time positions provided they undertake their duties during leave
periods. Colonels and above can undertake judicial positions during duty
periods. In May 2003 McGarr was offered and accepted an appointment and was
assigned to the South East region.

McGarr
claimed that the MoD’s policy affected women’s career opportunities more than
men’s, because of the under-representation of women at senior levels in the
armed forces. There are 10 ranks of colonel and above; only one among these
ranks is female.  There had not
previously been a female colonel at Army Legal Services.

The
tribunal’s decision concluded that "aspects of the evidence (in particular
talk of the ‘divisive’ element of competition) suggest to us that the
respondent’s objections to permitting officers below colonel to undertake
judicial duties have as much to do with issues relating to rank and status
within the Army as with operational effectiveness. We conclude that the
respondent has not demonstrated that its practice of permitting only colonel or
above to undertake judicial work in duty time is justifiable on any objective
basis".

By Quentin Reade

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