Barrister wins nine-year fight to overturn critical tribunal findings

Tribunal: Balance of prejudice overwhelmingly with claimant

The employment tribunal has set aside a ruling from 2014 that a former law firm director, now a barrister, was guilty of serious financial impropriety.

The decision by Regional Employment Judge Robertson in Leeds opens the way for Layla Dean-Verity to apply for a rebuke issued by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) off the back of the ruling to be revoked.

Ms Dean-Verity, formerly known as Anjum Tahirkheli, was a non-solicitor director of Bradford firm Khan Solicitors, along with her then husband Mohammed Khan and Rashid Majid. She dealt with the company finances.

The marriage broke down in May 2012 and she was dismissed four months later on the grounds of serious financial impropriety. Ms Dean-Verity was called to the Bar in 2018 and practises from Erimus Chambers in Luton.

At the February 2014 hearing of her claim for unfair dismissal, the firm conceded that she had been unfairly dismissed because no procedure of any kind was followed.

But Employment Judge Cox found that Ms Dean-Verity had been guilty of serious financial impropriety by carrying out four categories of unauthorised transaction for her own benefit.

This meant she would have been fairly dismissed had a proper procedure been followed and in any event that her compensation should be reduced by 100% on the basis that her dismissal had been caused by her own blameworthy conduct.

In 2016, an SRA adjudicator rebuked Ms Dean-Verity “by virtue of three of the four types of unauthorised transactions found by EJ Cox” and made her subject to a section 43 order – banning her from working in the solicitors’ profession without its permission.

An SRA adjudication panel and the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal upheld this decision.

In 2018, Mr Majid and Khan Solicitors sent Ms Dean-Verity and her former husband a pre-action letter for a claim for over £800,000, based in part on findings of Judge Cox.

The letter attached 855 pages of documents which included some which Ms Dean-Verity had unsuccessfully sought in the earlier proceedings and which she said “fundamentally” undermined Judge Cox’s findings.

Later that year, the SRA revoked some of the disciplinary sanctions, although not the rebuke, partly on the basis of the new documents.

Ms Dean-Verity applied for a judicial review over the refusal to set aside the rebuke but the proceedings were stayed by consent to allow her to apply to the employment tribunal for a reconsideration of the 2014 judgment.

Neither this nor an appeal of the 2014 judgment was successful because they were out of time.

Meanwhile, the High Court action was struck out for abuse of process and, though Mr Majid and the firm were granted leave to appeal, the proceedings settled in 2021.

The terms included that Mr Majid and the firm would take no further part in the appeal against the decision not to allow a reconsideration and, if the 2014 judgment was eventually set aside, Ms Dean-Verity would discontinue her tribunal claim.

Last year, the Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned Judge Cox’s decision not to extend time for the reconsideration and returned the case to the lower tribunal to look at again.

Judge Robertson ruled last month that he should extend time. While he found that Ms Dean-Verity had not adequately explained why she did not take action more quickly after the 2014 ruling, “the documents disclosed in 2018 appear to me to cast real and cogent doubt on the findings of the tribunal that the claimant was guilty of financial impropriety”.

This meant “the balance of prejudice is overwhelmingly with the claimant” – the respondents would suffer no prejudice if the application was allowed to proceed out of time, given the terms of the settlement; but if it was not, the chances to setting aside the SRA sanction would be significantly reduced.

The judge went on reconsider the 2014 judgment and decided that it was in the interests of justice to revoke it, given the “serious concerns” the documents raised about the findings.

“That means that the findings of financial impropriety within the 2014 judgment are set aside. Ordinarily it would follow that the decision would be taken again and I would make the necessary case management orders for rehearing the case.

“But after I announced my decision, and in accordance with the confirmation that he had given me, [counsel] advised me that the claimant withdrew her claim and consented to it being dismissed on withdrawal.” He gave judgment accordingly.

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