Supreme Court allows appeal in ‘whistle blowing’ claim against international law firm

22 May, 2014

The Supreme Court has allowed the appeal of Krista Bates van Winkelhof, a former member of the law firm Clyde & Co LLP (“the LLP”), holding that Ms Winkelhof is a worker within the meaning of section 230(3)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (“the 1996 Act”), and thus entitled to bring a whistle blowing claim against the LLP in the Employment Tribunal.

The appellant, an English qualified solicitor, was a member of the LLP and worked principally, but not exclusively, in Tanzania. In November 2010, she reported to the LLP’s money laundering officers that the managing partner of the Tanzanian law firm, which was party to a local joint venture with LLP, had admitted paying bribes to secure work and to secure the outcome of cases. She claims that these were ‘protected disclosures’ within the meaning of section 43A of the 1996 Act, and that as a result of making those disclosures she was subsequently subjected to detriments, including her suspension and ultimate expulsion from the LLP. Those claims are denied by the LLP and have not yet been tried.

In 2011, the appellant brought claims in the Employment Tribunal against the LLP and one of its Senior Equity Members under the whistle blowing provisions of the 1996 Act, and unlawful sex and pregnancy discrimination claims under the Equality Act 2010. The respondents made numerous preliminary objections to the appellant’s claim, including that she was not a “worker” within the meaning of section 230(3)(b) of the 1996 Act, and therefore did not benefit from the protection it gave to whistle blowers. The Supreme Court has now decided this point in the appellant’s favour, holding that members of LLPs are workers and protected by the whistle blowing legislation, and further leaving open the question as to whether partners in traditional 1890 Act partnerships might also fall within the definition of “worker” and therefore be protected by the whistle blowing legislation.

The case will now be remitted to the Employment Tribunal, for the appellant’s claims to be heard in full.

David Craig and Claudia Renton of Essex Court Chambers, led by Tom Linden QC of Matrix Chambers, and instructed by Joanna Blackburn, head of the employment department of Mishcon de Reya, were counsel for the successful appellant.