A claimant in the employment tribunal has been ordered to pay £20,000 adverse costs after the judge found ‘unreasonable and on occasion abusive’ conduct on the part of her and her lawyer.

Retired solicitor lambasted for 'snoring' during evidence

Source: Alamy

Employment Judge M Butler said that at one point during cross-examination of a witness, the representative made a snoring sound ‘seemingly because he did not like the answer to his question’. The judge said this was ‘frankly the most outrageous conduct’ and disrespectful to the witness and the tribunal.

The claimant, named as Mrs M K Panesar, failed in claims for constructive unfair dismissal, direct race discrimination, harassment and victimisation following a 10-day hearing in 2021. She had been a community support worker with the respondent, Leicestershire County Council, before resigning in 2018.

Panesar was represented at the substantive hearing by a Mr G Blakey, who described himself as a ‘retired solicitor’. The tribunal heard that Panesar failed to submit a witness statement containing all her evidence and it was left to Blakey to carry out an examination-in-chief. On at least eight occasions, the judge had to point out to him he was asking leading questions.

Questions of the respondent’s witnesses were said to be ‘extremely long such that the witness and the tribunal lost track of the question completely before it could be answered’.

A costs hearing was listed for May 2022 but the claimant failed to comply with the order to respond to the costs application, and instead Blakey made a number of ultimately unsuccessful applications with no prior notice.

The council then applied for £20,000 of its costs to be paid by Panesar, citing the repeated failure to comply with orders, repeated requests for adjournments and postponements without good cause, and the way Blakey conducted cross-examination.

Before the preliminary hearing, the council offered Panesar the opportunity to withdraw her claims without an application for costs being made against her if she withdrew them. Despite a judge’s conclusion that her claims had little reasonable prospect of success, she paid a deposit of £3,500 and continued to pursue those claims.

The tribunal found her evidence ‘totally unreliable’, but said arguably the most concerning aspect of her case – in which Blakey was ‘clearly complicit’ – was an incident involving a vulnerable council service user whose evidence was used to support the claim. This statement appeared to have been drafted several weeks before the final hearing but was not disclosed to the tribunal, and because of the witness’ vulnerability it was ‘highly unlikely that she had any idea what she was signing’.

The tribunal added that Blakey had complained about the arrangement of furniture in the court room, had complained about not being able to look witnesses in the eye when cross-examining, tried to argue at one hearing that he did not represent Panesar and failed to comply with orders.

The tribunal ordered that Panesar pay £20,000 towards the council’s costs, save for the £3,500 already paid as a deposit.