Colbert v Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust
The High Court recently delivered an interesting judgement in the case of Colbert v Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust. The case involved a claimant who issued proceedings seeking an interim injunction relating to the conduct of the Trust during the MHPS disciplinary process.
The Claimant was the subject of disciplinary proceedings via a MHPS Hearing, following allegations that he had intimidated and bullied other colleagues. The allegations about the claimant arose from a previous investigation into the claimant’s department as a whole. The claimant brought an interim injunction application against the Trust in the High Court, claiming that his employer had breached obligations under MHPS and its own disciplinary policy. The claimant wanted 11 named individuals within the Management Statement of Case to be present at the hearing to allow for cross examination by his counsel.
The Trust refused this request but told the claimant that he could make representations to the disciplinary panel who could, if they thought it appropriate, call some or all of those witnesses to give evidence. The claimant indicated that he intended to call around “30 additional witness subject to their availability”.
The first element of the claimant’s case was that the Trust had breached its disciplinary policy by failing to require all of the management witnesses to attend the disciplinary hearing so that they could be cross examined by the claimant.
The second element of the claimant’s application was that the Trust was in breach of MHPS by not disclosing the unredacted report to the department which had led to allegations of bullying and harassment being made against the claimant.
The High Court dismissed the claimant’s application for an interim injunction.
They found that the claimant did not have an unqualified right to insist that any “management witness” be required to attend the disciplinary hearing.
The High Court found that there was no serious issue to be tried (part of the test for injunctive relief), because the claimant had no real prospect of establishing a contractual basis for his alleged rights.
They also found, in accordance with a number of previous injunctive relief MHPS cases, that the Court should not become involved in the ‘micromanagement’ of disciplinary proceedings, and they should, ordinarily, be allowed to run their course internally.
In relation to disclosure, the Court found that there was no real prospect of the claimant establishing that relevant material had been withheld from the employee.
The reference in MHPS is to correspondence relating to the case. They found that even if the report was to be classified as ‘correspondence’, the claimant would not have an unqualified right to have the unredacted report disclosed to him, particularly given the Trust’s obligation of confidentiality towards other employees.
This is a reminder that the courts will generally only intervene in the internal MHPS process where the proceedings are being conducted in such a way that the process itself becomes a breach of contract, and becomes sufficiently serious that the breach cannot be remedied within the proceedings themselves. This case demonstrated the reluctance of the courts to become involved in the management decisions of disciplinary proceedings.
It also reiterates (in accordance with Burns v Alder Hey) that the disclosure obligation under MHPS is exactly what it says – correspondence relating to the case and does not require an expansive interpretation to include all documentation requested by the practitioner.