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Internal Disciplinary Procedures - Getting It Right

Internal Disciplinary Procedures - Getting It Right

The case of Christou(C) and Ward(W) v Haringey Council focused on internal disciplinary procedures and involved an appeal to the Court of Appeal by two social workers. They were found to be at fault in the handling of the Baby P case.

C was a team leader responsible for a number of social workers, including W. W had specific responsibility for Baby P who was on the child protection register. They had been disciplined under the Council's simplified internal disciplinary procedures and given a written warning. The simplified procedure applied to relatively minor breaches of conduct where the likely sanction was a verbal or written warning.

After the trial of Baby Ps' mother and accomplices, Ed Balls commissioned a report into safeguarding arrangements for children in Haringey. The report was critical of those arrangements and:

  • queried whether the prior disciplinary action taken against C and W was sufficient, and were there grounds to warrant further/separate disciplinary proceedings
  • concluded that the original disciplinary proceedings were unsafe and inadequate
  • stated five misconduct allegations were worthy of further consideration

Fresh disciplinary proceedings were brought. These resulted in summary dismissals for gross misconduct. There were appeals and the decisions to dismiss were upheld.

Claims were brought before the Employment Tribunal (ET) for unfair dismissal, primarily on the basis that it was unfair to subject C and W to a second disciplinary process.

The ET rejected this and found that the dismissals were fair. An appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal was unsuccessful and the two appealed to the Court of Appeal.

They sought to rely on the doctrine of 'res judicata' which prevents the re-opening of a matter where a decision has already been taken by a Judge or other Tribunal i.e. the 2nd set of disciplinary proceedings were subject to res judicata and should never have been brought.

This was rejected on the basis that internal disciplinary proceedings were not covered by the doctrine. The Court ruled that the disciplinary process is not a form of adjudication but the exercise of a contractual power by an employer who is simply seeking to protect its own interests rather than acting like a Judge.

Despite this ruling, our advice is that revisiting disciplinary proceedings for the same matter, is unlikely to be seen as fair, unless the circumstances are wholly exceptional.

If you'd like to discuss internal disciplinary proceedings further with an experienced employment lawyer, please get in touch.

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Written by : Super User

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