IT project dispute for CEC and CWAC

A tribunal hearing involving Cheshire East Council and one of its former HR staff, could have been derailed after it emerged a witness was married to a judge.

Sue Wallace, a former HR officer from Connah’s Quay, took the case against Cheshire East Counci after she was dismissed in December 2016.

It came just weeks after she presented a report to Sara Barker, head of strategic HR, stating that some workers on ‘sleep-in shifts’ had not been paid the minimum wage.

The employment tribunal, which began last Monday, could have been postponed after it emerged Mrs Barker is married to Grahame Barker – an employment tribunal judge based in the north west.

But after considering the matter during an adjournment, Ms Wallace decided to continue with the hearing at Manchester Employment Tribunal as planned.

Representing herself as the claimant, Ms Wallace said: “I am quite content to stick with this tribunal and move forwards.

“I am clear at this moment in time that I have no reason to believe that there has been any bias or could be any bias.

“Mentally, do I want to go through all this again? Absolutely not.”

The issue was briefly raised last Friday, when Ms Wallace was advised she could decide whether to call the current hearing off and have a new bench hear her case from a different region in England.

She told the tribunal then that she was happy for the case to continue in Manchester this week – but the issue was brought back on to the table by Jeremy Lewis, the barrister representing CEC, this morning (June 11).

He said that Mr Barker – who is not on the judicial bench hearing Ms Wallace’s case – had previously sat on a case with Judge David Franey, chairman of the bench at this week’s hearing.

Judge Franey said: “I could have gone on the basis that the tribunal did not know about it.

“But as Mr Lewis has explained, the tribunal has to avoid material bias or the appearance of bias.”

Following the adjournment, Daniel Dickinson, acting director of legal services at CEC, was questioned on why he overturned a decision by Peter Bates, chief operating officer, to offer an appeal against Ms Wallace’s dismissal.

Ms Wallace previously told the hearing she was offered an appeal by Mr Bates on March 27, 2017.

The court heard that Ms Wallace received an email inviting her to an appeal hearing on April 24, 2017, but this was later withdrawn.

Mr Dickinson told the tribunal he did “not consider it appropriate” to have an appeal process running at the same time as an employment tribunal, as legal proceedings had begun by that point.

“The thinking was the internal appeal and the employment tribunal covered the same issues,” he added.

“The tribunal is higher up the hierarchy and I did not think it was appropriate for both processes to run in parallel.”

The hearing was adjourned until Tuesday, when Ms Wallace will begin to give her evidence as the claimant.

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