Judge accused of bullying and misogyny

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By Michael Buchanan
BBC News

Five women have accused a judge of bullying and sexist behaviour during employment tribunal hearings.

One woman told BBC News Judge Philip Lancaster had shouted at her at least 16 times, while another said she feared for any woman appearing before him.

The women, who encountered him in separate cases, said they wanted to highlight his “degrading behaviour”.

Mr Lancaster has not responded to questions from the BBC.

All the women we have spoken to lost cases heard in Leeds in front of Judge Lancaster, although some of them have been fully or partially successful on appeal.

Employment tribunals are specialist courts that rule on disputes between employers and employees. There are about 30,000 hearings in England, Scotland and Wales each year, centring around issues such as unfair dismissal, discrimination or redundancy payments. Northern Ireland has a separate system.

Dr Hinaa Toheed, a GP, appeared before Judge Lancaster at an employment tribunal in February 2022, while bringing a case of maternity discrimination against her former business partner.

She says that on the first morning of her hearing the judge described her case as an “omnishambles”.

Dr Hinaa Toheed says Judge Lancaster repeatedly shouted at her

Dr Toheed says as soon as she started giving evidence, the judge took over cross-examining her from the barrister representing her former partner, and tried to bully her into conceding points that supported the other side’s case.

“If I didn’t agree with anything that he said, he would shout at me,” she says.

At the end of the first day, Dr Toheed’s legal team became concerned that Judge Lancaster was behaving in an intimidating and aggressive manner towards her.

They noted down each time he shouted at Dr Toheed while she was giving evidence, counting 16 separate occasions over three days.

Dr Toheed says that her lawyers considered asking the judge to stand down from the case but concluded that such a move would almost certainly be unsuccessful and might well simply antagonise him further.

She lost her case but is appealing against the tribunal’s findings.

Dr Toheed complained to the Courts and Tribunal Judiciary about Judge Lancaster, accusing him of “an inappropriately hostile attitude” towards her.

Her complaint was considered by a higher judge, Stuart Robertson, in 2022, but his conclusion is being kept “in abeyance” [on hold] until Dr Toheed’s appeal is decided.

Judge Robertson justified his decision on the grounds that her complaint covered similar points to her appeal and he wished to “avoid possible embarrassment” to the employment tribunal process.

“It seems like the bigger concern is how this looks for the judiciary, than actually dealing with Judge Lancaster’s conduct,” says Dr Toheed.

Nine months earlier, a woman called Andra had appeared before Judge Lancaster to represent her partner, Ion Ionel, a joiner from Romania. He had brought a case of racial discrimination against the construction company he worked for.

Although she was not legally trained, Andra, who is also Romanian, said she had prepared extensively for the hearing.

She says Judge Lancaster appeared irritated from the start of the hearing and shouted at both her and her partner on multiple occasions.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been treated like that in my life,” she says.

Andra represented her partner Ion in court

“He literally interrupted me whenever I was asking any questions, saying it’s either irrelevant, or I shouldn’t ask this today, I should put it to another witness, not this witness. And then when we got to the other witness, he would say: ‘Why didn’t you ask the other witness yesterday?'”

Mr Ionel lost his case but successfully appealed against the ruling.

An appeal tribunal said that there had been “serious material procedural irregularities” during the hearing, including “a significant number of occasions when the judge intervened to prevent questioning of the respondent’s witnesses”.

A new hearing – in front of a different judge – has been scheduled for September. Meanwhile, Andra still wants action taken against Judge Lancaster: “What he put us through was horrible, really horrible.”

Since November 2023, audio from employment tribunal cases has been routinely recorded in England and Wales.

But at the time these cases were brought (between 2018 and 2022), the judge’s written notes of proceedings were treated as the official court record of employment tribunal hearings.

The lack of independent evidence, say the women, means it is difficult to have complaints against judges upheld.

Even now, there are strict guidelines on accessing the recordings – claimants must be accompanied by a court official on court premises.

However, one case heard by Judge Lancaster received publicity in the press. In 2021, Alison McDermott, an HR consultant, brought a high-profile case against Sellafield, the nuclear waste disposal and reprocessing company in Cumbria.

Alison McDermott says Judge Lancaster yelled at her and made sneering remarks

News reports referred to criticisms she made of Judge Lancaster. Ms McDermott says he yelled at her and made “sneering” comments about her earnings.

“I think it mattered hugely that I was a woman,” she says. “For some reason, he had a real problem with the fact that I was a well-paid professional woman.”

Ms McDermott lost her case, although an appeal judge found there had been errors in her tribunal and she won some minor concessions. A new tribunal is now looking at her claim.

Her story served as a rallying point for complaints against Judge Lancaster in particular, and the employment tribunal system in general.

BBC News has spoken to two other women who approached Ms McDermott after her case, who had also complained about the judge:

A nurse, who brought a case against an NHS trust in 2021 claims he showed “extreme bias” towards her employer’s witnesses, and says he bullied her and “raised his voice angrily” – she lost the case but was partially successful on appeal In 2018, a woman who lost a case brought before Judge Lancaster alleges that his behaviour was “erratic, illogical, aggressive” and “profoundly disturbing”

“On the one hand, it’s affirming,” says Ms McDermott. “On the other hand, it’s really upsetting to hear that more women have been abused.”

Judge Lancaster, who has been an employment tribunal judge since 2007, declined to comment when approached by the BBC.

In a statement, the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary said it could not provide comment in response to any conduct allegations.

It also said they could not provide a figure for the number of complaints that had been made against Judge Lancaster, as such information is confidential.


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