Law centre is criticised over internal disciplinary hearing

Hounslow council has slated its local law centre over its handling of an internal disciplinary hearing in a confidential report seen by The Lawyer.

The report, on a disciplinary hearing involving the conduct of housing and family solicitor Yvonne Patterson, said the hearing breached good employment practice guidelines.

In a note accompanying the report, the council's chief executive, Robert Kerslake, said the report raised some “very serious issues about the conduct of the law centre.”

The hearing was called after a colleague of Patterson complained about her ability to perform her work. The hearing then prompted Patterson to claim racial discrimination and victimisation with the support of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE). The tribunal case resulted in a £20,000 out- of-court settlement for Patterson, who has left the centre.

Hounslow council partly funds the centre and the report found that the disciplinary hearing was not fair or reasonable and contravened its guidelines on good practice in employment. It questioned whether the hearing should have been called in the first place and criticised the management for failing to take up the complaint with Patterson as soon as it was received.

Makbool Javaid, of the CRE, who represented Patterson in the tribunal case, said: “Patterson was convinced the minds of the management had been poisoned against her before she was alerted to the complaint.

“The fact that this took place in a law centre is particularly worrying. We would expect law centres to be more progressive and in touch with discrimination matters.”

Tim Jenkins, a partner at Ealing firm Montague Lambert & Co, which represents the centre, said it could not accept a report which set out a “factually flawed and biased background” and “findings that have not been properly considered and recommendations that are therefore likely to be unsound.”

He said “noises” had been made about the existence of the law centre by certain members of the council and claimed the report was written from political motives.

A spokeswoman for the council said the funding for the centre would be reviewed at the end of the year as normal. She could not comment on whether further action would be taken against the centre.