Employment Tribunal Panel recuse themselves to avoid ‘perception of bias’

27 March 2024

In a dramatic development, the entire panel of an Employment Tribunal stepped down on day 6 in the trial of Christian teacher ‘Hannah’, who was sacked for raising safeguarding concerns about ‘affirming’ the gender transition of a primary school pupil from girl to boy.

Employment Judge Victoria Butler, and lay members, Mr Javed Akhtar and Mr Jed Purkis, all recused themselves in response to revelations of a social media post by Mr Purkis which was said to advocate for religious discrimination.

While stepping down, the panel made a gagging order which prohibits naming the teacher (known only as “Hannah”), the school, or any of its staff.

The trial is expected to begin afresh before a different panel at Nottingham Employment Tribunal later this year.

Mr Purkis, a non-legal member of the Employment Tribunal in Nottingham, describes himself as a lifelong socialist and trade unionist.

On his social media accounts, which at the time of the hearing were accessible globally but were subsequently made private, he described Conservatives as ‘tumours’ and said his social media timelines were ‘clogged up with right wing nutjobs.’

In response to a comment that only atheists should be in public office, Mr Purkis said: ‘Damn right, you won’t catch us killing in the name of our non-god.’

In response to social media comments from a user that they find ‘Christians worse than woke’, Mr Purkis had said: ‘If they are so f***ing super how comes there is so much s**t going on in the world’, and added, ‘I need no higher power to tell me the right way to treat people and behave.’

Posting in response to Professor Mark Barber OBE saying the ‘woke bullying’ of former Conservative MP, Lee Anderson, by the ‘Marxist BBC must stop’, Mr Purkis said: “If you lead with your chin expect to get hit.’

Mr Purkis had also ‘liked’ posts which suggested: ‘There is no opposite of “woke”, because there is no definition of “woke”. It’s just a fresh dollop of ethereal stupidity, invented to provide a new bogeyman for the bewildered…now the equally ethereal Brexit has turned into something tangible…and that tangible thing is s**t.’

Mr Purkis also liked a post picturing Suella Braverman which said: “nowhere on God’s green earth would you find a politician as evil, stupid and repulsive as this f*****g ghoul.”

Furthermore, Mr Purkis had ‘liked’ posts questioning the existence of cancel culture which ‘alt right cranks keep bleating about’.

Employment Judge Victoria Butler and Mr Purkis were also members of the panel who found against Rev Dr Bernard Randall in September 2022. Dr Randall’s barristers, Niazi Fetto KC and Richard O’Dair, argue in the ongoing Appeal that the panel exhibited bias.

The revelations also follow the double recusal in another the high-profile Christian Legal Centre case involving sacked school assistant Kristie Higgs. Mrs Higgs was sacked for social media posts raising concerns about transgender ideology and extreme sex education in her son’s Church of England primary school.

At the Employment Appeal Tribunal stage, it was found that a transgender activist, Edward Lord, who is associated with Mermaids and Stonewall, was sitting on the case.

It transpired that Lord had made a series of public statements relating to key issues in Mrs Higgs’ case, including the extent to which individuals should be restricted from making comments or statements regarding LGBT ideology, especially transgenderism.

The recusal

Following the discovery of Mr Purkis’ comments, Hannah’s lawyer, Pavel Stroilov, made an application for recusal, stating: “You will be well aware of the legal test. You have to look at the post from an assumed standpoint of a fair-minded and informed observer. That observer needs to consider whether there is a possibility of bias, including subconscious bias. In this social media exchange Mr Purkis appears to agree with a view which expressly advocates for religious discrimination in public life. The post remains visible to all and it is easy to establish that Mr Purkis is a judicial office holder. This is not a passing comment and has remained public since January 2023.”

Mr Stroilov argued it would not be sufficient only for Mr Purkis to step down, since the other two judges had presided over the trial together over 6 days and would be perceived as influenced by his view of the case.

Following an adjournment to consider the application, the Tribunal ruled that the whole panel had to step down, acknowledging that ‘doubt would arise in the mind of a fair-minded and informed observer’ as to their impartiality in the case.

Commenting on the link between the presiding panel and the case of Dr Randall, Employment Judge Victoria Butler said she was: “Not persuaded that Randall had any bearing on this tribunal, however we are aware that [Hannah] may not have confidence.”


Responding to the recusal, Hannah said:

“It means a further delay to me receiving justice, but I have to have a fair trial. I am shocked that this is not the first time this has happened.

“I am determined to pursue justice over how I have been treated because my number one concern and motivation is to protect Child X and other children in this country from harmful transgender ideology in our schools.

“I was informed by my conscience as a Christian to live right before my God and also by the body evidence I had researched which informed me clearly that social transitioning young children is harmful.”

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said:

“This is the latest in a series of high-profile Christian cases where it has transpired that panel members have a vocal and active bias against Christians and about the key issues involved.

“You cannot have a panel presiding over a serious case involving a Christian who has lost their career because of their beliefs, that includes panel members who appear to hold significant prejudice against Christians and conservative beliefs, and to lack any understanding of what it means to be a person of faith.

“While we are pleased to have exposed this, justice delayed is justice denied, not just for Hannah but for vulnerable children who are being harmed by transgender ideology.

“Hannah’s story exposes the confusion and untruths being embedded in primary schools over human sexuality and identity which are developing into a public health crisis.

“We will continue to pursue justice for as long as it takes in this case.”

Hannah’s case

Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, ‘Hannah’, who cannot be identified to protect the identity of ‘Child X’ had brought the case against Nottinghamshire County Council and a primary school where she had worked without issue for five years.

Hannah is making claims of victimisation for whistleblowing, unfair dismissal, and discrimination on the grounds of her Christian beliefs.

She has alleged that the school dismissed her, and reported her to a raft of regulators, for blowing the whistle on the school’s ‘trans affirming’ policy practice which she believed endangered ‘Child X’ and their peers.

The policies appeared to allow any child at the school, without medical evidence, to be affirmed in whichever gender they choose.

Promoted with staff training under the direction of a Stonewall Champion working at the local authority, the policies did not include any detail on the risks a ‘trans affirming’ approach has to children.

Under the policy, Hannah was told ahead of the new school year in 2021, that an 8-year-old joining her class must be addressed by the child’s new name and pronouns and therefore would be treated as ‘transgender’, be ‘affirmed’ in the belief that they were ‘born in a wrong body’ and be allowed to use toilets and changing room facilities of the opposite sex.

Hannah said that she could not go against her conscience and Christian beliefs in affirming what she believed would cause Child X, and potentially other children, short and long-term harm.

Following all the correct safeguarding procedures and backed by expert evidence, Hannah raised safeguarding concerns which were repeatedly ignored by school bosses, governors and the local authority.

Faced with no option but to pursue a judicial review of the school and council’s refusal to properly act on her concerns, Hannah was dismissed for accessing and divulging with her lawyers, information which the school argued was confidential.

Trans guidance for schools

Hannah’s case comes following the government’s December 2023 publication and consultation of its draft transgender guidance for schools, which makes a number of significant points in relation to her case.

The guidance says that schools and colleges now have specific legal duties that are framed by a child’s biological sex, and that there is no general duty to allow a child to ‘social transition’.

The draft guidance adds that teachers should not be compelled to go against their conscience and use a pupils’ preferred pronouns which are contrary to their biological sex.

Section 6.3 of the draft guidance says: “No teacher or pupil should be compelled to use these preferred pronouns and it should not prevent teachers from referring to children collectively as ‘girls’ or ‘boys,’ even in the presence of a child that has been allowed to change their pronouns.”

Furthermore, the guidance says that allowing a child to transition is not a neutral act and that safeguarding obligations must be taken into account, not only for the pupil wanting to ‘transition’, but for all children.

Telling schools that they must always protect single-sex spaces with regard to toilets, showers and changing rooms, the guidance also says that no child should be allowed on a school trip to share a room with a child of the opposite sex.

A Policy Exchange report published last year has also concluded that a ‘generation of children are being let down, because well-established safeguarding standards are being compromised.”’

The report went on to say regarding sex and gender issues that:

“Safeguarding principles are being routinely disregarded in many secondary schools, which are neglecting their safeguarding responsibilities in favour of a set of contested beliefs in a way that risk jeopardising child wellbeing and safety.”

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