Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Court Intervention in Disciplinary Disputes

[Thanks to Sarah Fitzpatrick of Collingwood Legal for preparing this case summary]
Do courts have the ability to intervene in disciplinary disputes between employers and employees?

Yes, said the Court of Appeal in West London Mental Health NHS Trust v Chhabra, but only in very limited circumstances.

If there is evidence disclosed in the course of an investigation which justifies the employer's decision to convene a disciplinary hearing and the employer has followed its own procedures throughout it is unlikely the court will intervene.

Whilst Dr Chhabra was a passenger on a train, it was alleged that she breached patient confidentiality.  The Trust appointed an independent case investigator who reported to a case manager.  The case manager determined that allegations of misconduct in relation to the breach of confidentiality would be referred to a disciplinary panel, which could determine that she should be dismissed.

Dr Chhabra alleged that the Trust should have treated the matter as less serious and followed a different procedure which could impose lesser sanction.  Dr Chhabra brought proceedings to the High Court seeking an order restraining the Trust from proceeding with the disciplinary hearing.  The High Court held that the proposed hearing amounted to a breach of the doctor's contract, that in the circumstances they had used the wrong procedures, and injuncted the Trust from proceeding.

The Court of Appeal unanimously allowed the Trust's appeal.  It was for the case investigator to provide sufficient information for the case manager to determine whether there was a case of misconduct that should be put to a disciplinary panel.   The manager was required to exercise judgment as to whether the alleged conduct was sufficiently serious to require a disciplinary panel. On the facts and evidence the case manager was entitled to convene a disciplinary hearing as the nature and gravity of the alleged conduct was sufficiently serious to justify that course of action.

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