Unfair Dismissal: Sharon Shoesmith & Haringey Council29 October 2014
A recent documentary on Haringey Council and the Baby P scandal which included reports on Sharon Shoesmith’s drawn out legal claim, was recently aired on BBC 1. Much of the reporting around the case has been inaccurate and has confused her claims. We have set out below a summary of her claims and the reported compensation.
Ms Shoesmith brought an Unfair Dismissal claim and an application for Judicial Review (JR). The Employment Tribunal claim was stayed pending conclusion of the JR proceedings.
The JR application stemmed from Mr Ed Balls’, then Secretary of State, press conference where he indicated a direction had been given to the council to remove Ms Shoesmith from her post. She was subsequently summarily removed from statutory office and then dismissed by the council with immediate effect. Ms Shoesmith made an application for JR, asking for the decisions to (1) remove her from her post; and (2) to dismiss her (both with immediate effect) to be reviewed under public law.
Ms Shoesmith argued that Mr Balls’ decision was unlawful because he failed to observe the requirements of procedural fairness and was swayed by a Sun newspaper petition calling for her removal. She also argued that Haringey’s decision was unlawful because it was made on the basis of Mr Ball’s directive which was, in itself, unlawful.
Haringey argued that, in the light of the Secretary of State’s direction, and a particularly critical OFSTED report, it had no alternative but to dismiss Ms Shoesmith with immediate effect.
The Court of Appeal agreed with Ms Shoesmith that her dismissal, by the Secretary of State and Haringey, was unlawful under public law.
The matter was listed for a remedy hearing which would look at her request for a declaration that she was still employed by Haringey Council and was therefore entitled to back pay going back to December 2008. McLaughlin v Governor of the Cayman Islands (Privy Council) supported that request; as per Lord Bingham:
“It is a settled principle of law that if a public authority purports to dismiss the holder of a public office in excess of its powers, or in breach of natural justice, or unlawfully (categories which overlap), the dismissal is, as between the public authority and the office-holder, null, void and without legal effect, at any rate once a court of competent jurisdiction so declares or orders. Thus the office-holder remains in office, entitled to the remuneration attaching to such office, so long as he remains ready, willing and able to render the service required of him, until his tenure of office is lawfully brought to an end by resignation or lawful dismissal.”
Ms Shoesmith’s argument would have been that the circumstances/nature of her dismissal made her unemployable. She lost her six figure salary and is unable to mitigate her loss. Ms Shoesmith’s annual salary is reported as £133,000.00. The Court specified a range for compensation starting at her three month notice pay up to a sum equivalent to her back pay from when she was dismissed in December 2008 to the date of decision (roughly £800,000).
The claim was settled before the need for a remedy hearing and it has been reported that Haringey’s accounts confirm compensation was paid along the following lines:-
- £377,267 for salary, fees and allowances,
- £217, 266 in compensation for loss of office, and
- £84,819 in pension contributions.
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