Employment lawyer to pay costs after claiming against wrong firm

Tribunal: Lack of jurisdiction

An employment solicitor who failed to correctly name his law firm when bringing a claim against it for unfair dismissal has been ordered to pay £3,000 in costs.

Employment Judge McDonald said the result of the solicitor’s decision to go ahead with an interim relief application “despite the flaws in the application and the weakness of the substantive case” was that the law firm had to spend £3,000 on a barrister to defend it.

The proceedings, brought as a litigant in person by Mr M Broomhead against Peninsula Business Services Ltd rather than Peninsula Legal Services Ltd trading as Irwell Law, were “not a case of an unrepresented claimant not fully understanding” what an interim relief (IR) application involved and required.

“It involves an experienced employment lawyer bringing the IR application against the incorrect respondent.

“This is not a case where the claimant was uncertain who his employer was, as can be the case for some employees. The claimant was, or should have been, well aware of getting the name of the respondent correct in proceedings and of the consequences of not doing so.”

The tribunal heard that Mr Broomhead worked for Irwell Law, the Manchester-based alternative business structure set up by well-known employment law and HR services company Peninsula, for a year to August 2023.

He claimed he was dismissed for making a protected disclosure after telling the firm’s compliance officer for legal practice (COLP) that another solicitor had arranged with the trainee who allocated work to give them the higher-paying cases, leaving the rest – which Mr Broomhead described as “the rubbish” – for him and the other fee-earners.

The solicitor was dismissed with three months’ notice at the meeting with the COLP, but a week later summarily dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct, specifically insubordination and breach of confidentiality.

Mr Broomhead argued that those grounds were fabricated and there was a public interest element in his disclosure because it concerned the conduct of a solicitor.

At a hearing in September last year Judge McDonald dismissed Mr Broomhead’s application for interim relief on the grounds of no jurisdiction because the claim was brought against Peninsula Business Services Ltd, which provides management consultancy among other things, and not Peninsula Legal Services Ltd.

The law firm sought costs on the grounds that the application was misconceived. Though the judge found that Mr Broomhead had no disposable income and very limited assets at the time, he could in the future earn around £2,500-£3,000 net per month as an employment lawyer.

He said Mr Broomhead’s IR application had “no reasonable prospects of success” because of the jurisdictional issues arising from bringing the application against the wrong respondent.

Even if he were wrong on this, the judge said, there was no reasonable prospect of the public interest disclosure claim succeeding because of the difficulty of establishing the claimant’s “necessary reasonable belief” in the public interest element.

He also found in the earlier ruling that the solicitor could not show there was “a pretty good chance of his establishing the causal link between the disclosure and the dismissals”.

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