The Court of Appeal has considered whether the suspension of a teacher pending an investigation into disciplinary allegations was a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence.

Mayor and Burgesses of the London Borough of Lambeth v Agoreyo [2019] EWCA Civ 322

Facts

The claimant was a primary school teacher accused of using inappropriate force against two children in her class, both of whom displayed challenging behaviour. She was informed by the school that she would be suspended pending investigation of the allegations. She subsequently resigned. The claimant alleged that the suspension amounted to a repudiatory breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence by the school. She argued that suspension was not reasonable or necessary in order for the investigation to be carried out.

The County Court dismissed the claim, holding that there had been reasonable and proper cause to suspend the claimant and, therefore, no breach of the implied term of trust and confidence. The High Court upheld her appeal, finding the suspension to be a “knee-jerk reaction” and adopted as the “default position”, which amounted to a breach of trust and confidence. The London Borough of Lambeth (on behalf of the school) appealed against this decision to the Court of Appeal.

Court of Appeal decision

The Court of Appeal has upheld the appeal, restoring the original decision that the claimant’s suspension was not in breach of trust and confidence. The High Court had misdirected itself and had substituted its own conclusions about the evidence presented to the County Court.

The County Court Judge had been entitled to reach the conclusion that Lambeth had responded to an allegation of possible misconduct in a reasonable and proper manner, to allow matters to be investigated. The High Court was wrong to ask whether suspension was “reasonable and/or necessary”. There is no test of ‘necessity’ in relation to the question of suspension. The crucial question is whether there has been a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence, and the answer depends on whether there was reasonable and proper cause for the suspension.

Consequences

It is already well established that suspension should not be a routine, ‘knee-jerk’, response to allegations of misconduct. The Court of Appeal has also previously ruled that suspension is not a neutral act but in this case, the court decided that the question of whether or not suspension could be regarded as a neutral act was not relevant and did not assist in determining whether there was reasonable and proper cause for a suspension. That will be for an employer to determine based on the relevant circumstances of any particular case. However, the court has confirmed that there is no requirement for an employer to meet the (arguably higher threshold) of showing that suspension is ‘necessary’.