Employment Judge Apparent Bias Claim Rejected

Posted: 26th October 2012

A former council housing officer who claimed her case was unfairly rejected by an employment tribunal after the presiding judge had dinner with a local authority lawyer involved in the case has had her arguments that she was denied a fair hearing rejected by the Court of Appeal.

Olivia Donovan, who worked for the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham as a team leader, brought a claim alleging sex and race discrimination and harassment against the local authority. She also claimed that she had been subjected to detrimental treatment because she was a whistle-blower.

Her case was rejected by an employment tribunal in April 2011, and her challenge to that ruling was later dismissed by the Employment Appeal Tribunal. However, she took her case to the Court of Appeal, claiming that apparent bias on the part of the employment judge meant that she had not been afforded a fair hearing within the meaning of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

She claimed that the judge was a ‘friend and former colleague’ of one of the solicitors who acted for her former employers, the council, and that they had had dinner together the night before the hearing.

However, refusing her permission to appeal, Lord Justice Rimer said that the nature of the relationship between the employment judge and the council solicitor had been properly disclosed at the start of the tribunal hearing and, after she was given time to consider, Ms Donovan had nevertheless agreed to press on with her case.

The employment judge had openly revealed the fact that she had previously worked with the council solicitor – who was described as an ‘acquaintance’ - and that they had ‘recently socialised together’.