Clydes whistleblowing battle attracts interventions as Supreme Court case looms

Whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work has intervened in the Clyde & Co v Bates van Winkelhof appeal, which kicks off in the Supreme Court on Monday.

Public Concern at Work will be represented by an entirely pro bono team in the appeal, led by Serle Court’s John Machell QC with Adil Mohamedbhai, who are instructed by employment firm CM Murray.

The one and a half day Supreme Court hearing is the latest phase of the legal battle between Clyde & Co and former partner Krista Bates van Winkelhof, in which she alleges she was unfairly dismissed from the firm after blowing the whistle on the managing partner of Clydes’ association firm Ako Law in Tanzania (26 September 2012).

The dispute will be closely watched by professionals with LLP member status as it will determine whether they can be defined as employed workers under the Employment Rights Act.

The intervention by Public Concern at Work will raise public interest issues for consideration by the court, concerning both partnership and human rights law.

The top court has been asked to clarify whether LLP members should be protected by whistleblowing legislation, after an earlier decision ruled that Bates van Winkelhof could not pursue a claim against Clydes because she was a partner and not employed by the firm (11 March 2013).

Public Concern at Work chief executive Cathy James highlighted the freedom of expression principles that are central to the case and emphasised the importance of all members of the workforce, including LLP members, to be able to report danger or wrongdoing without fear of reprisal.

James said: “It’s been an age old common law principle that those engaged in wrongdoing are not able to hide behind confidentiality clauses. Cases such as the collapse of Arthur Anderson and Enron demonstrate the need to encourage all workers to speak up before damage is done.”

CM Murray managing partner Clare Murray said LLP members are likely to be the first to spot potential wrongdoing by corporate or public bodies. “Under current case law they risk putting their careers in jeopardy by blowing the whistle when they see that wrongdoing. That can’t be right or be in the public interest,” she said.

The legal line-up:

For the appellant, Krista Bates van Winkelhof:

Matrix Chambers’ Tom Linden QC and Essex Court Chambers’ David Craig, instructed by Mishcon de Reya employment head Joanna Blackburn

For the respondents, Clyde & Co:

Kobre & Kim Andrew Stafford QC leading Littleton Chambers’ Chris Quinn and Nicholas Goodfellow instructed by Clyde & Co partner Nick Elwell-Sutton

For the intervener, Public Concern at Work:

Serle Court’s John Machell QC and Adil Mohamedbhai and Littleton Chambers’ Jonathan Cohen instructed by employment firm CM Murray.