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The Ministry of Justice is pursuing an IT specialist for legal costs after an employment tribunal struck out his claim alleging bullying in the IT department.
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Chris Ledbrook, who worked as a system support analyst for the Legal Aid Agency, claims he suffered detrimental treatment after raising concerns with managers that a female colleague was being bullied in 2010. He resigned in 2014.
He told the court 40% of the agency’s user support team believed they had suffered discrimination and 53% said they had been bullied or harassed, quoting an internal staff survey from 2015 (see Figure 1).
The case, heard on 1 March 2016, was the latest in a series of hearings. It was adjourned twice in 2015 after Ledbrook said he experienced severe mental strain.
He represented himself as a litigant, after failing to secure legal aid.
Ledbrook said he had lost his flat and his income, and was in no position to pay costs. “I have no assets whatsoever. I have spent all my money on legal advice. I have got nothing left,” he said after the hearing.
Ledbrook unable to continue case
Tribunal chair, Sarah Goodman, sitting at the Central London Employment Tribunal in Holborn, struck out the case after Ledbrook told the tribunal he was not in a fit condition to continue without legal representation.
Ledbrook said he had made an application for exceptional funding for legal aid and was in discussions with solicitors who might represent him.
Figure 1: An internal staff survey showed 35% of the Legal Aid Agency's user support staff felt they had experienced discrimination and 48% bullying and harassment at work in 2014. Former system support analyst Chris Ledbrook told the tribunal that the figures had become worse in 2015.
“If I had legal representation and a few months to recover I could continue with the case. The Legal Aid Agency is delaying its decision for funding,” he said.
Representing the Ministry of Justice, Andrew Lyons said neither side would benefit from an adjournment, which would come at substantial cost to the public purse. “This is game-playing by the claimant,” he said.
Lyons said there was a danger that witnesses due to attend the hearing might not be able to do so in future, because of consultations on redundancies underway at the Ministry of Justice.
“The Legal Aid Agency is delaying its decision for funding”
System support analyst, Chris Ledbrook
Goodman expressed concern that Ledbrook’s health was unlikely to improve until the case was concluded. She struck the claim out, after Ledbrook told the tribunal he was unable to continue and did not return following a recess.
“The difficulty is he is not here and has no intention of being here,” said Goodman. “Our understanding is that he does not wish to continue the claim.”
Judge asked to recuse herself
The court had earlier refused an application from Ledbrook for the chair to recuse herself from the case. Ledbrook told the tribunal he felt Goodman had acted unfairly by striking out claims for public interest disclosures and constructive dismissal on 3 September 2015, because the claims were processed four weeks late.
“I do not believe you explained sufficiently why an ET1 [tribunal claim] that was submitted two days early was considered four weeks late. I believe it’s unfair to carry on. I request another judge,” he told the court.
Goodman said email was not a valid way of submitting a tribunal claim and that, in any case, she had allowed some of Ledbrook’s claims to go ahead, despite being out of time.
After the ruling, Andrew Lyons, counsel for the Treasury Solicitors, announced the Ministry of Justice’s intention to pursue Ledbrook for legal costs. The court has yet to decide on the award.
A spokesman for the Legal Aid Agency said: “We are pleased the employment tribunal has dismissed all of Mr Ledbrook’s claims. The Legal Aid Agency takes all allegations of bullying and victimisation seriously and they will be thoroughly investigated.”
Speaking after the hearing, Ledbrook said: “I brought the case on behalf of my other colleagues who are still there. There was no way that was going to be a fair trial. I would have just got more ill. I needed equal legal representation.”