This blog is not about the rights and wrongs of the decision to dismiss Sharon Shoesmith following the Baby P case in Haringey, although I am sure many readers have a view on the subject. Instead, it is about the misreporting of the case itself.
I am sure we have all read the press coverage on just how much Shoesmith received as a settlement in her “unfair dismissal” case. However, what is not clear from the media coverage (or at least the parts I read) was that this was no ordinary unfair dismissal case. The press painted pictures of outrage at the level of her settlement for an unfair dismissal case but let us take it back a step.
This was not a case of unfair dismissal before the Employment Tribunal in the usual way. This was a judicial review concerning the rights of office holders. As a reminder, she succeeded in a challenge to her dismissal in the Court of Appeal in 2011 after she was dismissed without any opportunity to put her side of the case following the intervention of the Secretary of State for Education. Yes being dismissed without any opportunity to put your case would undoubtedly be unfair dismissal but an Employment Tribunal claim would not have such value.
Firstly, there is the cap on awards for unfair dismissal at £74,200 for a compensatory award and then there may be arguments around Polkey and the percentage chance that even if she had had a chance to put her side of the argument across, whether this would have changed the outcome. Taking everything in the round any award at Tribunal would have been limited.
Instead the process she did take, whilst having some link to an unfair dismissal, was in reality quite different. It is a long established principle that those who hold a public office have a right to some procedural protection before being removed from office.
So the problem with Haringey is that us employment lawyers are constantly championing the reality of the value of unfair dismissal cases. We spend many an hour bringing down the Claimant’s expectations that they will receive hundreds of thousands of pounds, that the Tribunal will punish the employer with a punitive award for the way they behaved and/or that the way they were treated made them feel so bad that it must be worth a fortune. Yet in the space of 24 hours, all these realities are blown away by media coverage that says an unfair dismissal claim is worth that much and I can just hear those cries of “if she can get that much then surely my cases is worth more”.