Protecting public interest whistleblowers

by Josie Stewart

Protecting public interest whistleblowers

by Josie Stewart
Josie Stewart
Case Owner
I was dismissed from the civil service after revealing the truth behind the UK's disastrous evacuation from Afghanistan. I am litigating because truth in government matters.
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Josie Stewart
Case Owner
I was dismissed from the civil service after revealing the truth behind the UK's disastrous evacuation from Afghanistan. I am litigating because truth in government matters.
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Latest: May 17, 2024

Finished in court

On Wednesday afternoon we heard closing arguments in the full hearing of my case, after eight days of evidence and cross-examination (which was brutal). 

Being in the centre of that storm was the…

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My name is Josie Stewart. I need your help as I try to establish the legal right for civil servants to blow the whistle when the public interest requires it.

I worked at the Department for International Development (DfID) and then the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) for seven years. I was sacked last year after blowing the whistle on the truth about the UK's withdrawal from Afghanistan. You can read my story as published on the front page of The Guardian here, and evidence which I gave to Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee here.

Although FCDO’s handling of the Afghanistan evacuation was shameful, I had taken no action until false or at least misleading statements were made to undermine evidence given to Parliament.

It’s normal for civil servants not to feel comfortable with political direction or government incompetence – that’s part of the job. It’s not acceptable for them to be forced to be complicit in government lies.

Why support me?

I want to rebuild the sanctity of truth in government, and I want to help change the culture in government so that civil servants can speak truth to power. I believe that our democracy depends on it.

I also do not want any other civil servant to go through what I have been through. The civil service is packed full of brilliant, passionate, dedicated people, working for all our benefit. 

There has to be a way for them to call out lies and falsehoods, when Parliament and the public are being misled, without losing their jobs. Something has to change.

What am I trying to achieve?

I am taking my case to tribunal because the Public Interest Disclosure Act is vague and there’s almost no precedent for cases like mine. This gives government more power to coerce silence in cases of wrongdoing. It should be clear that civil servants will be protected if, in exceptional circumstances, they make a reasonable decision that the public interest requires disclosure of information.

If I win, my case will clarify critically important whistleblower protection. If I lose, it will make the case for much-needed reform in our legislation so that civil servants can speak truth to power and call out government impropriety. It’s important either way.

What are the next steps in the case?

On 10 March the government filed an application to the court for my case to be heard under Rule 94 National Security proceedings. A decision on this will be taken at a preliminary hearing on 19 April 2023.

My full case is then due to be heard in September. There is much work to be done before then to prepare documentary and witness evidence.

Why am I raising money?

I am represented by an incredible team of lawyers. I have been supported by my barrister, Gavin Millar KC at Matrix Chambers, for over a year already, and he and my legal team at James and West Law have been working on a probono basis all this time. But, as the recent Rule 94 application demonstrates, the government's disproportionate use of powers of the state is increasing both the importance and the complexity of my case. It will drag on, and inevitably there is a limit to how much my legal team can do without at least being able to cover their costs.

Thank you so much.

Update 10

Josie Stewart

May 17, 2024

Finished in court

On Wednesday afternoon we heard closing arguments in the full hearing of my case, after eight days of evidence and cross-examination (which was brutal). 

Being in the centre of that storm was the most intense and stressful experience, and one which I will be processing for some time to come. But I have now slept, and as I begin to emerge, I wanted to thank everyone who has supported me - by coming to court, by sending wishes, and by supporting my incredible legal team through CrowdJustice. Thank you.

Now begins the (probably lengthy) wait for the judgment.

Best wishes
Josie


Foreign office whistleblower hearing begins - Matrix Chambers (matrixlaw.co.uk) 

UK whistleblower ‘morally compelled’ to speak out on Afghan withdrawal | Civil service | The Guardian 

Failures in Afghanistan evacuation probably cost lives, tribunal hears | The Independent

Update 9

Josie Stewart

April 29, 2024

My case in my own words

"No tribunal can judge me to have been wrong in my actions. All they can do is conclude that my actions were outside the protection of the current law, and there’s an important difference." - My article in Prospect magazine, before the final hearing of my case begins this week.

As my incredible probono legal team gears up yet again, I remain deeply grateful for all support to help cover some of their basic costs.

https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/politics/65890/why-civil-service-whistleblowers-like-me-deserve-far-more-protection

Update 8

Josie Stewart

April 2, 2024

One month to go

The countdown is now really on: one month from today, the full hearing of my case will finally begin in the Central London Employment Tribunal. It's scheduled to run from the 2nd to the 20th of May.

I am turning my mind to preparation: assisting my legal team in any way that I can with all they will be doing this month to prepare, and preparing myself.

It's a truly huge amount of work that my team - Gavin Millar KC and Darryl Hutcheon at Matrix Chambers, and Cathy James and Spike Lacey at James and West Law - have taken on. 

I remain so grateful to each of you who has supported them, and me.

Thank you

Josie

Update 7

Josie Stewart

Jan. 4, 2024

Headed for court!

The deadline for any appeals to be lodged against the preliminary judgement on the application of parliamentary privilege to my case has now passed. Neither side appealed, so we are now finally headed for the trial. Once I have removed the court-ordered paragraphs from my witness statement, that is (which will pain me).

The full hearing is listed from 2nd to 20th May at the Central London Employment Tribunal. Almost all of it will be in public, thanks to the earlier efforts of my brilliant lawyers, so feel free to come along!

Update 5

Josie Stewart

Nov. 16, 2023

Judgement on parliamentary privilege

Today we received the court's ruling on Government's application to strike out core aspects of my case, on the grounds of parliamentary privilege. The hearing was public so hopefully the ruling will be published in due course. It raises some really important issues. In the meantime, here's our statement on it: https://jamesandwest.co.uk/government-restricting-whistleblowers/

Update 4

Josie Stewart

Sept. 2, 2023

Full hearing postponed

The full hearing of my case, scheduled for 8-22 September, is not going ahead as planned. 

We finally finished disclosure, and exchanged witness statements a couple of weeks ago.

We now find ourselves needing another preliminary hearing, for case management, on 7 September. Then 20-22 September is being held for a potential preliminary hearing, in public (those two words are important to me!), on issues of Parliamentary Privilege. 

Both sides are expecting a view on these issues from Speaker's Counsel early next week.

My case keeps getting more complicated, but the issues do not become any less important. 

And the amount of work my legal team are putting into all this, unpaid, is extraordinary. I am hugely in their debt. Any/all support I can offer them through this CrowdJustice appeal helps me to feel just a little better about this.

It also really helps me feel less alone, in this long fight. 

Thank you so much

Josie 

Update 3

Josie Stewart

July 10, 2023

Update on dates

It’s been a while since I updated on my case, but things have not been quiet: endless back and forth and wrangling over disclosure has meant a huge amount of work for my lawyers. We were meant to have passed this stage months ago, but we’re having to fight to get the documentary evidence we need. At another preliminary hearing this morning, the judge ordered new dates: finalising further disclosure by 28 July, yet another preliminary hearing on 8 August (in case we still haven’t been given everything), witness statements by 11 August. Not much time at all then before the full hearing is scheduled to begin on 7 September, and we anticipate some important issues still might not have been worked out by then – so this morning there was talk of it all slipping to next year.

I’m finding all this harder than I ever thought possible: the amount of work, the complexity and, most of all, the emotional impact on me, and on my life. My gratitude to my lawyers for what they are doing, unpaid, is profound.

The issues of legal principle that we are continuing to uncover as we go are truly important. Whatever happens, there is going to be much to take from this case and to use: to help public service work better for us all. 

To all of you for your support – thank you.

Josie

Update 2

Josie Stewart

May 18, 2023

Judgement on Government's Rule 94 application

There was another preliminary hearing in my case today, and we received the judgement on the issues fought at the hearing last month. The outcome was that an order was made under Rule 94 (national security proceedings).

The implications of the order are that some of the court proceedings will be held in private. We need to consider implications and next steps and I might be able to say something more on this in future.

Another preliminary hearing was also scheduled for 10 and 11 July. 

I get frustrated at myself for not understanding every detail in the complex litigation (though I trust my incredible team of lawyers implicitly), and I am finding the whole process very difficult emotionally. So I remain deeply grateful for all the incredible support I am receiving. 

Josie 
Update 1

Josie Stewart

April 19, 2023

Today in court

Dear All

Thank you for your continued support and interest in my case. Here is a quick update on what has happened since we reached our target. 

I spent today in court listening to arguments in a preliminary hearing on my case. This hearing was listed in order to hear and decide upon Government's Rule 94 (national security proceedings) application. As the hearing was held in private, frustratingly I am not able to share anything that was said. A Guardian reporter whom I met at reception this morning, who had turned up to cover the hearing, was turned away. 

What I can say is that we will receive the judge's decision and reasons on 18 May. Also that I found today intense, emotional, infuriating, and motivating. And that my legal team are truly incredible: it was a privilege to witness them at work. 

Whatever I can raise through CrowdJustice will only ever be a tiny proportion of the true costs of this case. But there are truly important issues at stake, which my lawyers are fighting not only on my behalf. They deserve my and our support. 

Huge thanks again for this. I will keep you updated on any further developments.

Best wishes,

Josie

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