Priti Patel could be first secretary of state to appear at employment tribunal

Former Home Office head Philip Rutnam’s constructive dismissal case might also call ex-cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill as a witness
Sir Philip Rutnam and Home Secretary Priti Patel PA

By Jim Dunton

06 Oct 2020

Home secretary Priti Patel could become the first lead politician in a government department to give evidence at an employment tribunal, it has emerged.

Patel is named as the respondent in the schedule for former Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam’s constructive dismissal case against the government, according to the Guardian.

It said a preliminary timeline for the tribunal next year had been sent to lawyers at the Home Office. Patel’s team and Rutnam’s lawyers are asked to exchange information on a voluntary basis by January, with witness statements to be shared by July ahead of a 10-day hearing starting in September.

Rutnam quit his role at the Home Office at the end of February. In an extraordinary move for a senior civil servant, he chose to issue a high-profile video statement of his grievances against Patel.

The resignation followed days of intense briefings against Rutnam and in his statement the former perm sec said he had turned down an exit package put together by the Cabinet Office in order to pursue a constructive dismissal case.

Patel denied involvement in the briefings. Rutnam said he did not believe her.

He added that his work to protect the health and safety of the department’s 35,000 staff had “created tensions” with Patel and that he had encouraged her to “change her behaviours”.

Alleged bullying of staff by Patel, which she has denied, was a central theme of Rutnam’s concerns.

“I have received allegations that her conduct has included shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands – behaviour that created fear and that needed some bravery to call out,” he said.

Prime minister Boris Johnson tasked then-cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill with conducting an internal review into the allegations. It has yet to be published.

When Patel was asked about the review on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last month she said she had not seen a final version of the document. She also failed to give a direct answer when repeatedly asked whether she would support the publcation of the review, once it was signed off.

The Guardian said Sedwill could also be called as a witness at Rutnam’s tribunal because he was effectively Rutnam’s line manager in the civil service.

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