Double-Jeopardy in Disciplinary Proceedings
Does the concept of double-jeopardy apply in internal disciplinary proceedings? Or can an employer re-discipline in respect of the same disciplinary offence because the sanction imposed first time round was too lenient? These were the questions faced by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Christou & Ward v London Borough of Haringey.
Ms Ward was the social worker responsible for Baby P who died in 2007. Ms Christou was her team manager. Both received written warnings in respect of Baby P’s care following a disciplinary procedure. The senior management team at Haringey Council was then replaced with this new team taking the view that the disciplinary sanctions imposed did not adequately reflect the severity of the disciplinary offence. It conducted a second set of disciplinary proceedings with the result that both Ms Ward and Ms Christou were dismissed. Both raised unfair dismissal complaints.
The EAT found that there is nothing to prevent an employer conducting a second formal disciplinary procedure in respect of the same offence where new management took a different and more serious view of the offence than that taken by the previous management. However, this will only be the case in exceptional circumstances. In this case, it was in the public interest that an appropriate disciplinary sanction was imposed as the misconduct involved a risk to the public. Ordinarily, the general standards of fairness and in particular, dealing with disciplinary action within a reasonable timeframe would preclude the employer having another bite at the cherry if they later decide that an inappropriate disciplinary sanction was imposed.