EAT allows sacked law firm boss to continue challenging 2014 ruling

Tribunal: Judge was wrong on issue of prejudice

A former law firm director, now a barrister, trying to challenge an eight-year-old employment tribunal ruling that found her guilty of serious financial impropriety has overcome the first hurdle.

His Honour Judge Shanks in the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that Employment Judge Cox should look again at extending time for a reconsideration of her 2014 judgment “in the unusual circumstances of the case”.

Layla 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 now practises from Erimus Chambers in Luton.

At the 2014 hearing of her claim for unfair dismissal, the firm conceded that she had been unfairly dismissed because she was given no notice of the meeting at which the decision was made and no procedure of any kind was followed.

EJ Cox found that Ms Dean-Verity had indeed 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.

The judge also said Ms Dean-Verity was one of the most unreliable witnesses she had ever heard and made other criticisms of her.

HHJ Shanks recorded that Mr Majid sent copy of the ruling to the media and publicised it on social media, as well as reporting Ms Dean-Verity to the police and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

The police decided to take no action and Mr Majid applied unsuccessfully for a review of that decision.

However, 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 profession without its permission.

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

In 2018, Mr Majid and Khan Solicitors sued Ms Dean-Verity and her former husband for over £800,000, “based in part on findings of Judge Cox”, HHJ Shanks recounted.

The pre-action 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 EJ Cox’s findings.

Later that year, the SRA adjudicator 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.

When she did so, EJ Cox held it would not be fair and just to allow the application to apply for the reconsideration to be made six years out of time, saying she did not accept that refusing to extend time would cause Ms Dean-Verity “substantial prejudice”.

The High Court claim had continued in the meantime, and in September 2020 District Judge Goldberg struck it out as an abuse of process, saying there was an “air” of Mr Majid “exacting some form of retribution against [Ms Dean-Verity], which is extraordinary for a professional practice”.

He added: “They have gone to lengths which are extraordinary to try to have [her] pilloried by their own fellow professionals.” Mr Majid appealed.

The following month, Ms Dean-Verity made a further application for reconsideration of the 2014 judgment based on the developments in the High Court claim, but the tribunal responded by saying it had nothing to add to its previous decision.

In April this year, the High Court proceedings were settled. The agreement also provided that Mr Majid and the firm would take no further part in the reconsideration appeal and, if the 2014 judgment was eventually set aside, Ms Dean-Verity would discontinue her tribunal claim.

On appeal, HHJ Shanks said EJ Cox’s finding on the absence of prejudice seemed “a surprising conclusion”; while the particulars of High Court claim did not refer to the 2014 judgment, at the time “it was plain” that the law firm was still placing some reliance on it.

EJ Cox’s comment that the decision on whether to reconsider the rebuke was a matter for the SRA and not her “rather misses the point that the SRA’s decision was bound to be influenced by relevant findings of the employment tribunal”, HHJ Shanks added.

“Putting those points together it seems to me that it can properly be said that the judge made a material error of law in her assessment of the prejudice that would be caused to the claimant if she did not allow the application for reconsideration to proceed out of time.”

The judge should also have put some weight on “the prejudice caused to the claimant by the mere continuing existence of the 2014 judgment representing, as it must, something of a stain on her character”.

HHJ Shanks remitted the case to EJ Cox.

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