Ben Emmerson QC's suspension from duty contains important lessons for employers in how to handle investigations relating to employees whose principal function is to hold them to account.
In a statement from the firm of solicitors acting for the leading silk, the firm noted that their client had "read on the internet that he had been suspended". The statement continued "If and when allegations are put to him, he will respond appropriately".
At the moment, the only reason that has been articulated by the inquiry was "concerns over his leadership".
Within the employment context, employers need to tread very carefully in handling allegations against employees who may themselves have raised allegations about the legal failures of the employer, particularly if these are in the public interest.
In one case, a practice nurse raised concerns with her employer about a new colleague's clinical expertise and competence. She was disciplined for being overly critical, unsupportive and failing to demonstrate leadership skills, among other allegations. The Employment Tribunal concluded that charging the nurse with a serious disciplinary offence was a detriment as a result of blowing the whistle.
With even greater regulation within the financial industry, it is now much more common for compliance issues to found whistleblowing complaints, especially as compensation for dismissal as a result of whistleblowing is not subject to the ordinary caps. Employers considering disciplinary action relating to employees who may have blown the whistle must therefore be very careful in identifying and separating those allegations from those complaints and ensure that they are not motivated by retaliation. Suspension must also be reserved for the most serious of cases, given that this can seldom be undertaken discreetly, as Mr Emmerson QC's treatment aptly demonstrates.
The most senior lawyer on the public inquiry into institutional child abuse in England and Wales was suddenly suspended on Wednesday over what the inquiry said were concerns over aspects of his leadership.