Investigation re-opened into employment tribunal judge accused of being 'anti-Christian'

Sarah Kuteh was dismissed as a nurse over complaints that she discussed her faith with patientsChristian Concern

An investigation has been re-opened into the conduct of a judge who oversaw the employment tribunal of a Christian nurse dismissed following complaints that she had spoken to patients about her faith. 

The investigation into Judge Martin Kurrein was re-opened following a complaint by the Christian Legal Centre, who defended Sarah Kuteh at tribunal in 2017.  

She was dismissed as a nurse by the Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust in Kent in 2016 over complaints that she spoke about her faith with patients and had given one a copy of the Bible. 

The Trust also referred her to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) for disqualification proceedings. The NMC Code provides that nurses must "make sure [they] do not express [their] personal beliefs (including political, religious or moral beliefs) to people in an inappropriate way".

Judge Kurrein found her dismissal to have been "fair" during the hearing in March 2017, and in 2019 his judgement was upheld by the Court of Appeal. 

However, the Christian Legal Centre (CLC) complained to Judge Boyle, the President of the Employment Tribunals in England and Wales, that Judge Kurrein's conduct of the trial was "unfair" and that he had been "conspicuously hostile to Mrs Kuteh and her representative throughout the hearing".

In the complaint, CLC Chief Executive Andrea Williams said that Judge Kurrein had disrupted submissions by Mrs Kuteh's lawyer, Pavel Stroilov, and his cross-examination of witnesses, with "extravagantly frequent interventions". 

In one intervention challenged by the CLC, the judge interrupted questioning to the witness about her understanding of the distinction between "appropriate" and "inappropriate" expression of beliefs in the nurses' professional code of practice. 

"You can't know in advance whether someone would be offended by a comment, can you?" Mr Stroilov asked.

Judge Kurrein replied: "Yes, exactly, you can't know that. That is why you shouldn't make the comment. Everyone has their article 9 rights [to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion] and they can believe what they wish. But in the workplace they are circumscribed.

"Many people are not religious and there are many people that object. It is a subject fraught with difficulty and as a consequence people should not express anything about their own beliefs without it first being raised as a question by anyone else."

The complaint also claims that the judge made an unwarranted personal attack against Mr Stroilov in his written judgment published after the trial.

In his judgment, Judge Kurrein wrote: "I had difficulty in discerning the relevance of Mr Stroilov's cross examination, which is what led to me asking him if he was, as apparently self-described to the Security Guard on Reception duty and my Clerk, a Barrister. He confirmed to me he was not."

It is unnecessary to be a barrister to represent a client in an Employment Tribunal, although misrepresenting oneself as a barrister is a criminal offence.  Mr Stroilov categorically denied describing himself as a barrister during the hearing, the CLC said.  

Mr Stroilov said: "A judge must not abuse his elevated position, and the trust which the public places in him, by making a personal attack on a professional advocate doing his job, let alone by making a very serious allegation against a person without having any grounds for it.

"It is vital to ensure that judges are subject to proper scrutiny in order to maintain transparency and fairness. This is why this case has been brought and pursued."