In the Media

CPS guilty of race discrimination

PUBLISHED August 2, 2006

The Crown Prosecution Service was guilty of race discrimination against one of its own solicitors, the Court of Appeal ruled today. 
Halima Aziz, a Muslim, was suspended from her job after being wrongly accused of making offensive remarks to a court security officer soon after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The suspension was lifted in October 2001 when Ms Aziz was was transferred from the Bradford branch of the CPS to its Wakefield office.

By that time, Ms Aziz was unwell and unfit for work and she complained to an employment tribunal that her treatment was discrimination on the grounds of race and sex.

The tribunal found there had been race discrimination ? but not sex discrimination ? in a ruling given in June 2004.

The tribunal said that by suspending Ms Aziz, the CPS had acted in breach of its own disciplinary code and would not have treated a white solicitor in the same way.

These findings were reversed by an Employment Appeal Tribunal in May last year but today the Court of Appeal ruled that the original tribunal had made no mistakes and the finding of race discrimination should stand.

Lady Justice Smith ordered the case to be sent back to an employment tribunal for an assessment of damages to compensate Ms Aziz for the loss and distress she was caused.

The original tribunal heard how Ms Aziz was passing through security check at Bradford Magistrates Court on September 25, 2001 when a guard commented that she was a security risk.

Lady Justice Smith said: "Given that the attacks on the USA were so recent, the tribunal regarded that remark as insensitive, even provocative. However, Ms Aziz took it in good part and jokingly replied that she was a friend of Osama Bin Laden."

It was later alleged that her remarks had been offensive and had led to a disturbance within the court. The security officer also made a report about Ms Aziz to an official at the magistrates? court.

The two reports, which the tribunal described as "all hearsay," were used as a basis to discipline Ms Aziz without any attempt to investigate their truth or reliability, said Lady Justice Smith.

"In my view, it is important that disciplinary proceedings should not be initiated unless the suspicion of misconduct is based on reasonable grounds.

A wholly hearsay account emanating from unnamed complainants and alleging unspecified offensive words allegedly giving rise to a disturbance ? the time and place of which are not known ? could not be said to give rise to a reasonable suspicion of gross misconduct," she said.

A CPS spokeswoman said: "The CPS has decided not to appeal the judgment by the Court of Appeal. We will consider the judgment carefully and thoroughly and decide what lessons the organisation should learn from it and whether there is anyappropriate action that we should take.