Shattered Dreams of False Hope

No Entry SignEveryone makes mistakes and lawyers sometimes get the law wrong. It is less common for lawyers on both sides to be wrong.

A sad example of just such a case is Monk v Cann Hall Primary School [2012] All ER (D) 165 (Sep)*.

Poor Ms Monk not only became seriously ill after being wrongfully dismissed from her position, but then believed for over 4 years that she might recover compensation.

Those hopes, based on her own legal advice and the position adopted by the school’s lawyers were crushed when, less than a month before trial, her case collapsed like a house of cards.

In June 2008 Ms Monk was told she was to be dismissed from her position as an administrative assistant with the Defendant school. On 9 July, the governors decided she should go immediately and the next day, 10 July 2008, she was told to clear her desk and escorted from the premises.

She brought a claim for unfair dismissal and also a claim for defamation both of which were settled She also brought a claim for psychiatric injury said to have been caused by the school’s negligence.

Pausing there, a competent lawyer working in this field ought to have advised both her and the school (or its insurers) that there is very clear authority from the House of Lords and the Supreme Court that damages may not be recovered for injury caused by dismissal or by the manner of that dismissal.

The position is different where injury is suffered before dismissal and also where unlawful discrimination can be shown. Otherwise, the position has been debated at length and, however unsatisfactorily, made crystal clear in Johnson v Unisys [2001] UKHL 13, Dunnachie v Kingston Upon Hill City Council [2004] UKHL 36, Eastwood v Magnox Electric plc; McCabe v Cornwall County Council [2004] UKHL 35 and Edwards v Chesterfield Royal NHS Foundation Trust; Botham v Ministry of Defence [2011] UKSC 58.

Nevertheless, not only did Ms Monk’s lawyers apparently advise her she had a good claim but the school’s lawyers also believed she did. Having previously made a similar admission in writing, the school filed a defence in which they stated:

“…the Defendants admit that they, their servants or agents, failed to exercise reasonable care in the manner in which they brought the Claimant’s employment to an end on 10th July 2008”

Much as they continued to dispute that they were wholly responsible for Ms Monk’s illness, they essentially accepted liability and appear to have made interim payments of damages. It was not until 4 years later, in July 2012, that the school cottoned on and applied for permission to withdraw the admission and to strike out the claim.

On 25 September, in spite of a spirited defence by leading counsel for Ms Monk, that application was granted by the High Court. Although the school agreed not to seek reimbursement of the interim payments, that is likely to be small comfort to Ms Monk who presumably believed she had a reasonable chance of securing additional compensation.

Of course, strictly speaking, simply by getting those interim payments, she has done better than if she had been properly advised at the outset as the claim would not have been advanced at all.

Nevertheless, she may have incurred significant expense in pursuing the claim (which I sincerely hope she will get back) and giving false hope is both irresponsible and can be very damaging. After all, as John Cleese reminds us in Clockwise, “it’s not the despair, it’s the hope [we] can’t stand”.

*Presently unavailable on BAILII

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1 Comment

Filed under Cases, Dismissal, News, Occupational Stress

One response to “Shattered Dreams of False Hope

  1. Pingback: The Dream Lives On | Chop the Knot

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