Raab's 'culture of fear' harmed MoJ staff's mental and physical wellbeing, bullying complaint alleges

Civil servants were "left in tears" and some were signed off sick, letter claims
Dominic Raab has been accused of presiding over a "dysfunctional working culture". Photo: Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire

Dominic Raab oversaw a “perverse culture of fear” that damaged civil servants’ mental and physical wellbeing, a formal complaint has alleged.

A letter of complaint, seen by The Times, said there had been a “tangible shift towards a dysfunctional working culture” since Raab’s arrival at the department in September 2021. They said the justice secretary’s communication style was “often abrupt, rude and can be upsetting”, and staff had been “left in tears” on more than once occasion.

A group of officials sent the letter to MoJ leadership in March, and have now resubmitted it as a formal complaint. The prime minister, Rishi Sunak, yesterday ordered an investigation into two formal complaints that have now been raised against Raab.

The letter said under Raab, there had been a “significant decline in the working environment” and a “notable detrimental impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of colleagues at all levels”, The Times reported.

“The pressure of work and unreasonable deadlines” had had such an acute impact on staff that some had sought medical help, the officials claimed, leading to some being signed off work for extended periods.

However, some civil servants were “reluctant to be signed off due to the impact that this would have on their other team members”, according to the letter, which was from Raab’s first, year-long stint as justice secretary and deputy prime minister. Liz Truss’s September reshuffle saw him out of cabinet for seven weeks before he was reappointed by Sunak on 25 October.

“We are extremely worried about the perverse culture of fear that is clearly permeating this department . . . We are proud of the work we do here, but the tangible shift towards a dysfunctional working culture is starting to hinder that,” the officials wrote.

This week, CSW reported that multiple sources had alleged Raab created a “culture of fear” at the MoJ.

One former senior official said the cabinet minister was “known as a bully” and made a habit of “intimidating and belittling” civil servants. Another source said: “Far too many anecdotes about Raab end with him literally shaking with rage at an official.”

The complaint is understood to be one of two Raab said he had been notified of this week. The minister wrote to Sunak yesterday to request an investigation and said he would “welcome the opportunity to address any complaints transparently”. The other complaint is from Raab’s previous post as foreign secretary.

The PM said yesterday that he would appoint an "independent investigator" to look into the allegations. Raab said he was "confident that I have behaved professionally throughout", and pledged to "thoroughly rebut and refute" the claims against him.

The March letter alleged that staff anticipated “harsh criticism and rudeness” about the quality of their work from the secretary of state. “This means that clearance processes are extremely lengthy due to this nervousness also being felt at more senior levels within the line management chain,” it said.

“We appreciate that, as civil servants, there are times when we do need to deliver work at pace but currently we are being asked to deliver everything at pace and many of the unreasonably short deadlines are arbitrarily imposed by ministers and [special advisers] without clear justification. These deadlines are not one-offs but are constant and unrelenting,” the letter said.

“This is causing significant, undue pressure on colleagues, who are routinely working well beyond their contracted working hours in order to meet demands placed upon them.”

A source close to Raab said it would be inappropriate to comment during an investigation.

In the absence of an independent adviser on ministers' interests – a post which has been vacant since June – work is now underway to find a person with the “requisite experience" to investigate the complaints against Raab, a No.10 spokesperson said yesterday.

The spokesperson declined to say whether the probe will start by Christmas, saying:“I’m not going to put a date on it”.

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