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High Court Injunctions and Disciplinary Hearings

A rather interesting concept was dealt with recently by the Supreme Court via the case ofWest London Mental Health NHS Trust v Chhabra. The question before the Court was whether it could intervene to restrain an employer from requiring an employee to face allegations of gross misconduct at a disciplinary hearing if the conduct complained of is not sufficiently serious so as to support such a finding of misconduct.

Here the Appellant, Dr Chhabra, was and remains employed by the Respondent Trust as a Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist. The proceedings came about when the good doctor applied for a declaration and injunctive relief from the High Court prior to a disciplinary hearing at which the Trust was due to present the allegations of gross misconduct.

The Supreme Court held that the evidence against Dr Chhabra, even taken at its highest, did not translate as being capable of supporting a charge of gross misconduct. The Court was also minded to find that the labelling of the relevant conduct as being gross misconduct was itself a sufficient ground for an injunction.

The Court further held that an injunction should also be granted as the Trust’s HR adviser had exceeded his remit in suggesting extensive amendments to an investigation report, which had the effect of unduly magnifying the criticism of the Appellant in the report. The HR adviser could of course provide advice on internal procedural issues, however he had gone beyond his pay-grade in in attempting to steer the conclusions of the report. The Court confirmed that it considered this activity as being a breach of the implied contractual right to a fair disciplinary process.

In delivering his sole judgment, Lord Hodge JSC remarked that as a general rule, it was not appropriate for the Court to intervene to remedy what would be considered minor anomalies in disciplinary proceedings between an employer and its employees. In Dr Chhabra’s case however, the irregularities were most serious. Any damages she may have recovered were she to succeed in a claim against the Trust following the termination of her employment would potentially have been very limited, relative to the damage her career would have sustained.

The injunctive relief was therefore granted, with the Trust being prevented from progressing the disciplinary further until a fresh investigation was instituted and a new report published.

Conclusion

Although the above is a rare set of facts with an even more exotic and arguably extreme solution, this case serves as a useful reminder of the consequences of serious breaches in a contractual disciplinary procedure. The moral of the story HR managers should confine their role in disciplinary proceedings to an advisory role only.

If you have an question relating to disciplinary hearings and injunctive relief get in contact for a free consultation on 0113 350 4030 or at samira.cakali@scesolicitors.co.uk


Samira Cakali

Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.

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