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Employment lawyers ‘could enter disciplinary hearings’

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Public sector employees may soon be allowed legal representation at internal disciplinary meetings following a landmark ruling by the Court of Appeal.

The case revolved around the disciplinary hearing of a former primary school music assistant. The unnamed assistant was accused of sexual contact with a 15-year-old work experience trainee and was eventually dismissed by a disciplinary committee.

The employee argued that, as his chances of future employment were tarnished, he should have had legal representation several times before the internal hearings. But the local authority’s policy did not provide for this and no lawyers were ever permitted.

However, the Court of Appeal sympathised with the assistant’s argument and agreed that, as the hearing was “determinant of the claimant’s right to practice his profession”, Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, regarding the right to legal representation when charged with a criminal offence, applied.

The assistant should therefore have been granted legal representation should he/she have chosen to do so. But the Court’s decision would only be enforced when an internal hearing would have a direct effect on the future employment of a reprimanded employee.

Employers have now been warned to assess the damage a disciplinary will have on an employee’s career. If the consequences of dismissal are wider than losing employment, such as jail or failure to work in that profession again, employers should seek their own legal advice before initiating proceedings.

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Written by Andrew Hodges

February 6, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Posted in Comment, LinkedIn

Tagged with , ,

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