High Court asked to rule on Boris Johnson’s interpretation of workplace bullying

The FDA believes the Prime Minister misinterpreted the ministerial code when he declared that Priti Patel was not guilty of bullying.

19 Nov 2021| News

The High Court has been asked to rule on Boris Johnson’s decision that Priti Patel did not break the Ministerial Code when she was accused to bullying civil servants.

Responding to Permanent Secretary, Sir Phillip Rutnam’s claims that Home Secretary, Patel, was bullying staff, Boris Johnson said that she was “unaware of the impact that she had” and was “sorry for inadvertently upsetting those with whom she was working”.

He declared that Patel had not broken the ministerial code, despite the fact that his own independent adviser on the matter, Sir Alex Allan, said that she had. Sir Allan resigned in response.

Now the FDA, the union for senior civil servants, has asked the High Court to rule on Boris Johnson’s interpretation of the ministerial code.

“Without any explanation … [the Prime Minister] departed from the civil service definition of bullying,” Tom Hickman QC, representing the FDA, said in a written submission to the Court.

The code does not “mean whatever he chooses it to mean, words have objective meaning,” he added.

The FDA is arguing that it is a “misdirection of law” to suggest that workplace bullying is always a deliberate act and is asking the High Court to “declare that the Prime Minister misinterpreted the term”.

Hickman QC pointed out that Ministers should be governed by the same workplace rules as any other employer, and if Johnson’s definition of ‘bullying’ were allowed to pass then civil servants would be “under-protected”.

“The ministerial code would be substantially undermined as a policy document guiding the conduct of ministers, since its meaning would be no more and no less than the subjective opinion of the prime minister,” he said.