Misuse of computer systems at the highest level

It is unlikely that you missed the news stories last year concerning top Judges being dismissed for viewing pornography at work, on their work computers. No less than three Judges were dismissed around the same time in March 2015, with a fourth apparently resigning before investigations were complete.

One of the Judges has now been splashed across the news in recent weeks, as he has brought an unfair dismissal and disability discrimination claim against his employers, the Ministry of Justice. Former immigration Judge Warren Grant contends that he suffered from a mental illness which led him to view pornography at work. His claim is that this condition amounted to a disability, that his employers should have taken this into account, and that his dismissal was unfair as a result.

The claim is (unsurprisingly) being defended by the Ministry of Justice, who will almost certainly be denying that the former Judge has a disability at all, and are further contending that the dismissal was fair. They have stated that the Judge’s actions were an ‘inexcusable misuse of their judicial IT accounts’ and amounted to ‘wholly unacceptable conduct’. It seems that there isn’t any claim that the viewing of pornography led to any issues with the Judge’s work, however some newspapers have reported that the pornography was accessed several times a day for around 14 months.

It is pretty universal amongst employers and employees that accessing and viewing pornography at work is unacceptable. It is perhaps more serious when someone in charge of enforcing the law is caught doing it. Whatever your viewpoint on whether it is an action worthy of dismissal or not, the decision in this case will be very interesting for two reasons; the first to determine if viewing pornography at work is something which can amount to the symptoms of a disability, and the second to see how far the Tribunal’s decision is influenced by the high position the Claimant held.

A decision is expected soon so watch this space! In the meantime employers should ensure that their IT policies are clear on this topic so that no confusion can arise. It may also be prudent to consider good Firewall protection to avoid pornography sites from being accessed at all.

Dominic Bonham