Sunday, 5 October 2008

Another week...and I am just about here

Well just to prove that I am still here I thought a quick comment about the most recent shenanigans at some of our most prestigious law firms would be worthwhile.

Halliwells, following the lay offs in its real estate team now seems to lining up the corporates for unemployment. PEPs were up over the £400k mark last year and well I maybe the partners will allow themselves a slightly smaller share of the profits (if there are any!) this year.

Eversheds are next up, having made the slight and most likely school boy error of posting a job advert for a real estate legal secretary online mere hours after they fired their previous group of legal secretaries. Maybe I am just too cynical, thinking that a firm of Eversheds calibre might actually have thought through the ramifications of what they were doing.

As RollonFriday points out law firms just aren't playing fair with those employees they are doing away with.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Housing Association suffers humiliation

Mr Donal Hughes v. Stafford & Rural Homes (1), Karen Armitage (2)

Ahhh, more happy tidings in the world of social housing...a Midlands based housing association has had a claim for unfair dismissal and discrimination contrary to ss3A(1), 3A(2), 4(2)(d), 4(3), 4A and 55 of the DDA 1995 upheld by the Birmingham Employment Tribunal. Although the remedy hasn't been finalised I understand, the main heads of award total some £730,000 (yes that's Seven Hundred and Thirty Thousand Pounds).

I am no employment lawyer (thankfully) but even I know that this is pretty big stuff.

On 29th May 2008 Stafford & Rural Homes, based in Stafford, where found to have unfairly dismissed their Director of Housing, a Mr Donal Hughes, in 2007 following a lengthy grievance and disciplinary process. The judgment runs to some 90 pages and some 82 issues were agreed by both parties (if I say there was a 81.1 to 81.15, you'll the idea of the size of the case) covering the better part of 3 years and having been heard during the whole of April '08 in total.

The long and the short of it is that SARH, and their CEO Mrs Karen Armitage, failed the Claimant when he began to show signs of stress-related illness (which ended up in him suffering from reactive depression) and instead of helping the Claimant via occupational health referrals and the like, the Respondents sent the the Claimant a disciplinary letter and unfortunately the Claimant promptly suffered "a total breakdown" and was attended by a Crisis Mental Health Team. Since that time, the Tribunal point out that from the 6th February 2006 the Respondent's have conceded that Mr Hughes was a disabled person within the context of the DDA - the Tribunal had extended this back to the 5th December 2005.

The Claimant eventually lodge a grievance and the "independent investigator" turned out to investigate both the disciplinary and the grievance matters, under the direction of the HR Manager of SARH, a Mrs Carollyn MacDonald. Prior to interviewing the Claimant, the independent investigator agreed to expand the investigation and interviewed a number of managers in breach of the JNC terms of service I believe.

The Respondents also failed to make reasonable adjustments like continuing the C's salary at a full pay, which is within their power. They actually reduced it by half within 6 months. They also discussed internally whether to continue to fund a lease car for the Claimant, the difference being negligible between carrying on the lease or providing the claimant with his contractual entitlement funds for a car. The Claimant relied on the car to attend counselling sessions that aided in his coping and recovery from his stress-related illness.

The Respondents also breached the reasonable adjustments required by the DDA by making sudden changes to the prescribed procedure and format of the grievance and disciplinary hearings. On one occasion the grievance panel refused the Claimant a right to call witnesses, and on another occasion the disciplinary panel refused to allow witnesses or questions relating to the Claimant's illness.

The Tribunal also take issue with Armitage's response to the Claimant's detailed grievance which included calling him a liar/blatant liar on 28 separate occasions, all highlighted in bold type in the document. This constituted an act of victimisation. The comment that, "[f]urthermore the tone and content of the response constituted an act of harassment because Miss Armitage remained unable to accept that the Claimant was a disabled person and was therefore unable to make any allowance...".

Even where the Claimant was visibly stressed at the grievance, and his representative had to complete the reading of the statement the grievance chair, a Mr Alan Perkins, told the Tribunal that the claimant did not appear to be ill at the hearing and that he implied that he seemed to be feigning ill-health. Given the invisibility of the claimant's disability the panel ignored it.

In response to the claimant's grievance, a protected act under the DDA by reason of his disability, Miss Armitage attached an extra to allegations (about vexatious remarks and irretrievable breakdown of relationships) to her disciplinary action against the claimant. At one point the CEO highlights the Claimant's application to the E.Tribunal as justification for the disciplinary and that he couldn't return to work. The tribunal highlights both as acts of victimisation and harassment of the claimant - creating an intimidating environment. [Incidentally the tribunal point out that Armitage talks about the Claimant's "alleged illness" at his disciplinary hearing, and that the Chair then did not allow the Claimant's representative to question Armitage on her knowledge of the illness. This was deemed irrelevant for the purpose of the hearing].

The Tribunal also found that at no stage did the Respondents' ask occupational health to advise on whether the claimant was a disabled person.

I could go on, I may have a go at a full post when I get a chance later, but I thought I would highlight some sections and areas.

In terms of the award, the tribunal at a separate hearing recently, found the following:

- injury to health of £12,750
- injury to feelings of £15,000
- Miss Armitage to pay £5,000 for aggravated damages
- basic award of £4,350
- interest totalling some £11,000
- loss of earnings of around £80,000
- loss of statutory rights = £250
- interim payment of £50,000

- then there is a reduction imposed on the future loss of earnings and pension loss ...this reduces the total to nearly £600,000 - I am crap at ogden tables so don't ask me!

- Overall the final award will be in the region of £730,000!

Sometimes I the hearing(s) have lasted in excess of a month, and given various tribunal references to "voluminous" paperwork, and the "sixth bundle" folder this must have cost a bomb in legal advice.

Close to a million pounds maybe? Good to know money's being spent pursuing worthwile legal defences...

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Coal Health...

OK so this is not housing law, it doesn't matter since it's important for the legal profession in general I suppose.

Today, as I begin my journey back into the blogging world (instead of doing my chargeable work this evening), I found out that Raleys [-the Yorkshire law firm that made millions from miners compensation claims] has decided to set up this website.

Now the history of the coal mines is important, but when you line up the millions that each equity partner made at Raleys from those miners, and the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing to be held in January 09, it seems slightly odd no? I am sure that the SDT at the 20 day hearing will be quick to absolve them of any guilt when they mention the website!!

The firm rejects findings by the Legal Complaints Service that it provided inadequate professional service in the handling of miners’ compensation claims under the state-funded scheme for victims of respiratory disease and vibration white finger.

And senior partner Ian Firth's justification for the finding of IPS by the LCS is that it comes from a small minority of clients...lawyers aren't money grabbers - really...

Monday, 8 September 2008

I am still alive....barely...

Hello to all..

I am still alive, if only just, who would have thought that the Housing & Regeneration Act would have killed what little was left of my life!!

But now I am nearly at the end! lol

As to the Snail, I shall hopefully be up and running by next week again! fingers crossed..

Thursday, 31 July 2008

The new Lord Chief Justice

The gloriouslly named Sir Igor Judge is the new Lord Chief Justice as of the 1st October.

Sir Igor Judge (I do so love that name!) will replace Lord Phillips, who in turn id to replace Lord Bingham as Senior Law Lord.

In a statement, Sir Igor said: “For my own part, I have already decided to continue as head of criminal justice. Although, like Lord Phillips, I intend to sit across all the jurisdictions, I shall preside regularly in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division.

“This reflects my personal interest in the criminal justice system and the importance attached to it by the community at large. Reflecting my concern for the interests of the country as a whole, regular visits to courts outside central London will also be an essential part of my timetable.

“Like Lord Phillips, I am utterly committed to the principle of judicial independence. The principle is deeply imbedded in our history and our culture and, in the public interest, it must not be undermined or damaged inadvertently or by neglect.”