A woman who was repeatedly sexually assaulted and harassed by a former Labour MP is considering suing the House of Commons for failing to ringfence money that could cover her compensation.
Woman A was victimised after spurning the advances of Mike Hill, the former MP for Hartlepool, an employment tribunal ruled in July. An ally of Jeremy Corbyn, he was found to have climbed into the victim’s bed and sexually assaulted her in his parliamentary office.
On Thursday her barrister, Suzanne McKie QC, told a remedy hearing that nearly all of the £250,000 insurance policy that the Commons had put in place to cover an MP facing an employment claim had been spent on Hill’s legal fees.
McKie told the hearing that the Commons bore responsibility for failing to keep some money for her client’s legal costs and compensation.
“Ms A now has to consider how to effect judgment against Mr Hill when there is almost nothing left in that pot of money, and whether to sue the House of Commons for failing to put in place a sufficiently protective policy,” McKie told the hearing.
Woman A, who spoke to the tribunal under oath, said: “The insurance policy which covers MPs’ misconduct as employers is capped at £250,000, which includes defence costs as well as compensation for the victim. Mr Hill has deliberately pursued a hopeless case, reducing what’s available to me to very little.
“They had plenty of opportunity to settle this case, which was a hopeless case and which they knew they would not win. This has destroyed me, and they have taken four and a half years of my life, and I’m left with nothing and no hope.”
In July a central London tribunal found that Hill had marginalised Woman A in parliament, changed her terms and conditions of employment, and made her redundant after she rejected his advances.
Hill’s case has been funded by the taxpayer because of an insurance policy offered to all MPs, while Ms A’s has been funded in part through a crowdfunding campaign.
McKie, who is acting pro bono, told Thursday’s hearing that MPs were covered by a £5m insurance policy if they were sued for libel or slander, but by a £250,000 policy if an employee claimed sexual harassment.
She said: “The £5m insurance policy for MPs does not apply to deliberate acts, which must include sexual harassment and misconduct. The alternative insurance policy which does apply, the employment practices policy, is capped at £250k and includes defence costs as well as any amount for compensation.”
The fact that the policy does not ringfence money and can be exhausted on legal fees was raised by McKie, who implied that this could be a factor in other high-profile cases. “This is an important point, given matters aired in the press in the last few days related to misconduct in the House of Commons,” she said.
Last week an independent inquiry found that the former House of Commons Speaker John Bercow was a “serial bully” and liar, which could leave the Commons open to claims of compensation.
The hearing on Thursday was asked by Woman A’s legal team to make a recommendation that the House of Commons in future provides insurance policies that ringfence compensation for victims of harassment, misconduct and sexual assault. This is so that most of the moneys within the policy are available for compensation and cannot be used up on the legal fees of the MP, the barrister said.
Hill, who was then married, conducted a campaign of sexual harassment and bullying against Woman A over a 16-month period in 2017 and 2018, according to a reserved judgment. He was in breach of the Equalities Act in subjecting the claimant “to unwanted conduct of a sexual nature”.
The breaches included a telephone call on the evening of 22 September 2017 in which he told the claimant he loved her; “getting into bed with the claimant on 11 December 2017 and rubbing his erection against her”; and “sexual assaults on occasions at the Westminster office”.
He was also found to have victimised her with behaviour that included deactivating her security pass, ignoring her work-related text and emails, and terminating the claimant’s employment while stating he would put notice on the flat they shared in a text message.
Hill resigned as a Labour MP in March 2021, resulting in a May byelection in Hartlepool and a victory for the Conservatives.
The remedies judgment was reserved on Friday.
A House of Commons spokesperson said: “The House of Commons covers the cost of liability insurance to cover members for claims made against them by employees. Providing a single policy covering all MPs is more cost-effective to the taxpayer. How any claim is resolved would be a matter for the insurer and we cannot comment on individual cases.”