A local authority that found itself the subject of a negative judicial comment in an employment appeal tribunal has denied carrying out work for a mayor in a personal dispute.
The proceedings related to a claim by Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson (pictured) for unfair dismissal and compensation for unfair dismissal regarding his role as a senior learning mentor at Chesterfield High School in Crosby, Merseyside.
The mayor’s employment transferred by Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) from Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council - which held control of the school - to the school itself when it achieved academy status and independence from the council in 2011.
The school then terminated the mayor’s employment over concerns the arrangement was ‘inequitable’.
Anderson’s claim for unfair dismissal was upheld by the employment tribunal in January 2014. But the mayor appealed the tribunal’s decision over an award of compensation.
In April His Honour Judge Daniel Serota QC upheld the tribunal’s decision but, in his judgment, questioned a letter written by the solicitor to Liverpool City Council to the school’s headteacher two months after Anderson was elected mayor of Liverpool in 2012.
‘It is unclear to me why the legal department of Liverpool should have been acting on behalf of the claimant in his private capacity,’ Serota said.
Responding to a freedom of information request about the council’s involvement in the mayor’s case, Mike Jones, deputy head of democratic and information services, said neither the city solicitor, council solicitors nor council officers ‘produced or sent any letters or communications’ in the course of the tribunal or subsequent appeal proceedings.
‘The preparation and conduct of both the employment tribunal hearing and subsequent appeal were entirely a matter for the solicitors appointed by Mr Anderson OBE in his personal capacity and of counsel subsequently instructed by his appointed solicitors,’ Jones said.
A spokesperson for the council told the Gazette the city solicitor exchanged correspondence with Sefton council and the school before the mayor’s legal case began.
The correspondence related to ‘the interpretation of the statutory right to provision for time off for public duties contained in the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. This was an issue pertinent to the governance of the city council whatever the identity of the elected mayor.
‘In the course of that correspondence, mayor Anderson received notice of termination of his employment with Chesterfield High School, which was subsequently found to constitute an unfair dismissal.’
The spokesperson said the correspondence formed part of the documentation before the tribunal ‘because it gave context to the discussions which had been taking place about time off for elected officials prior to the termination of [his] employment’.
John Gregory, director of accountant Grant Thornton, which carries out local authority audits, told the Gazette he had not come across any instances of council solicitors acting for leading members or officers on personal issues.
He said: ‘The general principle that this shouldn’t happen is, I would think, very well established, and the lawyers of all people should be very clear about this.'
Gregory was unable to comment on the Liverpool case because Grant Thornton is the council’s external auditor.