Ignorance of the law is no defence

By Melissa Paz

As every lawyer knows, ignorance of the law is no defence. In the past week or so, I have found myself irritated by the inability of the press and politicians to refer to employment law without making a hash of it. In fact, their tendency to misunderstand the law (deliberately or otherwise) is not peculiar to the employment law field, but as an employment lawyer that is what riles me most.

Last week, one key untruth was spouted repeatedly about the Sharon Shoesmith settlement. However you feel about this emotive case, it is simply wrong to say that her reported £600,000 settlement sum was for ‘unfair dismissal’.

The fact is that Ms Shoesmith won a judicial review application against the secretary of state and the London Borough of Haringey — not an unfair dismissal claim. It was held by the Court of Appeal that the direction of the then secretary of state, Ed Balls, to remove Ms Shoesmith from office — as announced at the now infamous press conference — was unlawful. This direction was followed by a rushed disciplinary process carried out by her employer, Haringey, where the outcome was a fait accompli

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