Two social workers who were dismissed by the London Borough of Haringey in the wake of the ‘Baby P’ scandal have failed to convince the Court of Appeal that they were unfairly treated. Arguments that it was an affront to legal principle that they faced two sets of disciplinary proceedings on essentially the same charges were rejected by the court.
Team leader, Gillie Christou, was the supervisor of Maria Ward who had day-to-day responsibility for ensuring the safety of Peter Connelly who was 17 months old when he died in 2007 due to a chronic lack of care and abuse by his mother and two men. Following revelations during the criminal trials of those responsible, then Education Secretary, Ed Balls, ordered an inquiry into Haringey’s social services department. After internal disciplinary proceedings, both social workers were dismissed on grounds of gross misconduct.
Prior to the criminal trials, the pair had been given written warnings following fast-track disciplinary hearings. However, after Mr Balls intervened in the midst of a media storm over Peter’s death, the cases against them were re-opened culminating in their dismissal. They subsequently had their unfair dismissal claims rejected by an employment tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
Their lawyers argued on appeal that it was it was a violation of the legal doctrine of Res Judicata that they should have faced two sets of disciplinary proceedings on almost identical charges. It was argued that their treatment amounted to an abuse of process, was ‘inevitably unfair’ and that Haringey should not have been allowed ‘a second bite of the cherry’.
However, dismissing the appeal, the court ruled that the ‘simplified’ procedure followed at the first disciplinary hearing was so far removed from any kind of adjudicative process that Res Judicata had no application on the facts of the case. Haringey had been entitled to take further action against the social workers after the full facts surrounding Peter’s death had emerged under the spotlight of the criminal trials. Mrs Christou’ plea that a councillor who sat on the second disciplinary panel had felt under pressure to find against her and gave at least the appearance of bias was also rejected by the court.