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The UK government on Wednesday attempted to prevent a whistleblower who raised concerns about its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 from using key parts of evidence to fight her upcoming employment tribunal case.
Josie Stewart, a former senior civil servant who worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office, was dismissed for giving an anonymous BBC interview about the fall of Kabul in 2021 and is now suing the FCDO.
She has brought a whistleblowing and unfair dismissal lawsuit in the Central London Employment Tribunal which is set to be heard in May 2024.
The UK’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 was criticised by MPs, with the then foreign secretary Dominic Raab condemned for staying on holiday as the Taliban retook Afghanistan.
At a hearing on Wednesday the government applied to have parts of Stewart’s witness statement evidence struck out on the grounds of parliamentary privilege ahead of next year’s hearing.
The tribunal heard that parts of Stewart’s witness statement refer to evidence about Afghanistan given by various individuals to parliamentary select committees accompanied by her own views about the truthfulness of that testimony.
The tribunal was told part of the reason she leaked information to the BBC was that she believed parliamentary scrutiny was being undermined by allegedly misleading statements to parliament by ministers and senior civil servants.
The FCDO claimed on Wednesday that the passages referring to proceedings in the House of Commons should be struck out on grounds of parliamentary privilege — the longstanding constitutional principles set out by article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689 which protect free speech and stipulate that the courts cannot question or examine any proceedings in parliament.
Ben Cooper KC, barrister for the FCDO, told the tribunal that “the claimant has made a number of references in her statement to things said in parliament and accompanies this with her own comments about her own views on the truthfulness of these statements”.
He added: “The central question is whether admitting these parts of her witness statement into evidence would involve questioning in breach of Article 9 of the Bill of Rights.”
Gavin Millar KC, barrister for Stewart, claimed in his written arguments that “none of the challenged passages should be struck out” and said the FCDO’s reliance on parliamentary privilege was “misconceived”.
“In truth the challenged evidence is several steps removed from the kind of evidence which would engage parliamentary privilege,” he told the tribunal.
Millar claimed that if the tribunal accepted the FCDO’s arguments and struck out the passages it would seriously weaken Stewart’s case.
“The implications would be even more profound in other cases, for example cases in which the whistleblower speaks out exclusively in order to correct inaccuracies or even lies told to parliament,” he said.
The hearing continues.