Case roundup

This
week’s case roundup.

Care
needed in disciplinary proceedings

R v Chief Constable of Merseyside Police ex-parte Bennion, IDS Brief 678, High
Court

Bennion,
a chief inspector, made a formal complaint about her systematic harassment by
another officer. After the investigation of her complaint, the chief constable
upheld the decision to transfer Bennion to another area. She brought a sex
discrimination claim, but before this was heard, was interviewed, cautioned and
tape-recorded about a possible disciplinary matter.

She
added a victimisation claim to the tribunal proceedings, which were stayed
pending the outcome of the disciplinary matter. The area’s new chief constable
refused Bennion’s request that the disciplinary hearing, which he was to
conduct, should be transferred to another force. Following the disciplinary
hearing, Bennion was demoted to Inspector.

On
her successful application for judicial review, the High Court quashed the
disciplinary decision. The chief constable should not have conducted Bennion’s
disciplinary hearing because the outcome could have a bearing on the tribunal
claim. No one could be a judge in their “own cause” where there was a real
possibility of partiality (here that the chief officer was vicariously liable
for the acts of his officers). Clearly this is a lesson to all those conducting
disciplinary proceedings.

Tribunal
chairman acted unreasonably

Unwin v Governors of Sackville School and another, unreported, February 2001,
EAT

Unwin
began proceedings for victimisation contrary to the Sex Discrimination Act
1975. There was a massive amount of paperwork and the chairman adjourned the
hearing so that he and the tribunal members could read the papers themselves.
The chairman listed the matter for a directions hearing, which he conducted
alone. At that hearing, he struck out Unwin’s claim and ordered her to pay the
school’s costs.

Unwin
successfully appealed to the EAT. It held that while the provisions of the
employment tribunals Act 1996 did enable a chairman to strike out a claim
before a final determination of the case on its merits and to determine costs,
the chairman had erred by not consulting the lay members and seeking their
views. The chairman and lay members had spent four days discussing Unwin’s case
before the adjournment and the chairman had not exercised his power in a
“judicial” manner. Any reasonable chairman would have liaised with his lay
members and the parties before striking out the claim.

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