An employment tribunal has been ordered to look again at whether a claim against a law firm should continue, after the judge’s initial decision was found to be inadequately explained.
The tribunal had decided in Duncan Lewis Solicitors Ltd v Puar to show leniency to the claimant and set aside an order that her claim be struck out.
But sitting in the Employment Appeal Tribunal, The Honour Mr Justice Soole ordered the issue of relief from sanctions be considered afresh, having found the tribunal judge’s decision was ‘vitiated by a lack of adequate reasoning’.
Puar had brought claims for wrongful and unfair dismissal, race discrimination, bullying/harassment, victimisation and notice pay against the London firm, where she worked as a caseworker for two years until her dismissal. The firm cited in grounds of dismissal her alleged performance and conduct during her probationary period.
The case appeared doomed after Puar was found in default of an unless order requiring her to set out the claims in detail. But it was effectively rescued when Employment Judge Bedeau, sitting at Watford tribunal, set aside the order to strike out the claims.
The judge, it was reported, accepted Puar’s account that she did not believe she had to comply with the initial case management orders. Although he accepted Duncan Lewis would ‘suffer some prejudice’ from not having the full picture of Paur’s claims, he said this prejudice would be overcome. He said the firm had taken a neutral stance on whether a fair trial was possible and concluded ‘with some reluctance’ to favour the claimant.
Duncan Lewis said the judge failed to assess the seriousness of the default and insisted that a fair trial was not possible. Even by November’s hearing, it was submitted the claimant had still failed to comply with orders for clarification of her case. Puar, who appeared in person, argued the decision to preserve her case had been adequately reasoned and urged that cases ‘should not lightly be ruled out on a procedural technicality without determination on the merits’.
In the appeal ruling, Soole J said the judge had given ‘no adequate reasons’ for his decision on the issue of the seriousness of the default. He said it was a mischaracterisation to describe Duncan Lewis’ position on a fair trial as neutral, and said the judge gave no adequate reasons for his conclusion that a fair trial was possible.
He ordered that the fact-sensitive exercise looking at the reasons for Paur’s non-compliance with the unless order be considered completely afresh. This would include the question of whether Paur was in default of the order.