Lawyer awarded costs over law firm’s unreasonable conduct of ET claim


Witness statements: Firm exceeded word count

A law firm found to have constructively dismissed its head of family has now been ordered to pay her costs after an employment tribunal ruled some of its conduct of the proceedings unreasonable.

Hampshire and London firm Lawcomm Solicitors had already been ordered to pay Sarah Lightfoot-Webber almost £13,000 in damages.

Earlier this year, Judge Paula Volkmer found that the firm tried to change her bonus scheme without notice and failed to promote her as agreed. She held that it not only constructively dismissed Ms Lightfoot-Webber, but fundamentally breached her contract too.

The solicitor then sought her costs of £3,700, raising multiple allegations of unreasonable conduct. The tribunal upheld four of them.

Judge Volkmer noted that Lawcomm held itself out as an employment law specialist, as did its managing director Bill Dhariwal.

“Against this background, it was unreasonable for the respondents to write to the claimant on 10 and 13 February 2022 in the terms that it did, seeking to put pressure on her to concede that she did not have sufficient length of service for an unfair dismissal claim.

“This position was clearly unsustainable in circumstances, when the respondents’ position since the date of the grounds of resistance on 11 October 2022 had been that there had been a TUPE transfer of the claimant’s employment.”

Second, Lawcomm sent its witness statements to the tribunal on Friday 17 February 2023 without copying Ms Lightfoot-Webber, and then delayed until 16.39 on Monday 20 February, the day before the hearing, to send them to her.

Third, Lawcomm “significantly” exceeded the word limit for witness statements – the case management order had capped them at 5,000 words and it produced 7,000 – and finally the firm failed to comply with case management orders for the remedies hearing.

These findings did not mean the tribunal had to award costs, Judge Volker stressed, but here it would do, “in particular in relation to the witness evidence which caused significant difficulty and disruption to the claimant’s preparation for the hearing”.

She said: “If the claimant’s counsel had not been as diligent as he was in preparing cross-examination after close of normal business hours on the day before the liability hearing, despite having a young child at home, the hearing would likely have had to be adjourned.

“Witness statements within the correct word count were not received by the claimant until the afternoon of the first day of the hearing. This put significant pressure on the claimant’s representation in the circumstances.”

The judge awarded costs of £2,000 plus VAT.




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