Disciplinaries And Human Rights

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A decision was handed by the High Court this week on a thorny issue of how far the Human Rights Act applies to internal disciplinary hearings.  There has already been a suggestion that an employee may in certain circumstances allowed to have legal representation at an internal disciplinary on Human Rights grounds (as in, for example R v. Governors of X School); and in Mattu v. Coventry and Warks NHS Trust the High Court considered whether Article 6 of the Human Rights Act entitled an employee to an ‘independent and impartial panel’ to hear his disciplinary hearing.

Mr Mattu was a consultant with the NHS Trust, who was dismissed.  He argued before the High Court that his dismissal should be set aside, amongst other things on Human Rights grounds.  Every employer charged with dealing with a disciplinary issue has a duty to act impartially in hearing any disciplinary matter.  An employer must always attempt to be objective, and not to reach a conclusion until all parts of the evidence have been considered by the person carrying out the disciplinary hearing.  Failure to do so is likely to be a breach of the ACAS Code of Practice and could lead to a finding of unfair dismissal.

But it is a step further than that to say that the person (or panel) hearing the case ought to be completely independent and impartial.  Mr Mattu argued that ought to be so in relation to his case because the effect of the dismissal would be that he could no longer practice in his chosen profession – which can come under the ambit of the Human Rights Act.  The High Court disagreed; saying that in this case Mr Mattu’s ability to practice in his chosen profession was not affected, merely his right to practice in that particular job.

They did, however, comment that the dismissal of a Trust Employee by the Chief Executive of that Trust would not be independent and impartial, although that could be remedied by an independent appeal panel (which is the procedure in many public sector organisations).  The decision is nevertheless important, especially for those within the public sector.

At Forbes, our Employment Lawyers for your business regularly provide advice to both public and private sector businesses in relation to internal disciplinary issues and externally, should the matter proceed to an Employment Tribunal.  Taking advice at an early stage is crucial to avoiding costly litigation, so please do get in touch – we can help!

Jonathan Holden

About Jonathan Holden

Jonathan is a Partner and Head of the Employment Law department at Forbes Solicitors. Jonathan’s blogs cover his specialisms of disciplinary and grievance matters, redundancies, restructures, employment contracts, TUPE, policies and procedures and settlement agreements. Jonathan also writes about and acts for clients in relation to Employment Tribunal claims for unfair dismissal and discrimination.
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