A junior solicitor has described feeling ‘ambushed’ by senior colleagues at a meeting to discuss her mistake over a missed employment tribunal hearing.
Susan Orton, formerly with Cheltenham firm BPE Solicitors, told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal she was under the impression she was having an informal meeting with her supervisor and HR director in August 2018, the day after the mistake was discovered.
The SRA alleges that Orton was dishonest with her colleagues by telling them at the meeting she was not aware there had been notification of the hearing date. The tribunal heard earlier this week that Orton had already seen copies of a notification hearing document which she disposed of in two confidential waste bins.
Describing the meeting, Orton said: ‘I was ambushed, taken into a room without any knowledge about what that meeting was about. I am not good with change or unpredictable situations.
‘It felt very much like a casual encounter. I thought it was like when you have a near miss and have to report a first aid accident. I didn’t take much care… I was trying to talk quite generally and intended to say I had checked the electronic files but by a slip of the tongue I said paper files. I didn’t comprehend the gravity of the situation.’
The tribunal also heard details of the hour in which Orton was told of the missed hearing, put the documents in the bin and emailed the employment tribunal to explain what had happened.
Orton, who had been qualified for two years at the time, said she started to panic when she first found out about the mistake and was not thinking straight.
‘I needed to get [the mistake] out of my sight as I thought the panic would go down. I filed it in the bin but the panic didn’t go.’ The tribunal heard she made no attempt to wipe the hearing notification from the electronic file.
Orton is also accused of dishonesty over the email sent to the employment tribunal around 45 minutes after the initial phone call, in which it was stated that the firm had not received notification of the hearing. She told the tribunal her original draft had said the firm ‘didn’t know’ about the hearing, but this version was revised by her supervisor before it was sent.
‘He was a partner of the firm with a large number of years of experience and I had no reason not to trust him,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t be more sorry but I didn’t engage with what he had written.’
The hearing, which is expected to last until tomorrow, continues.