The recent case of Puri v Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation [2011] EWHC 970 (Admin) concerned the question of whether Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the right to a fair trial, applies to internal disciplinary proceedings.

Mr Puri was employed by an NHS Trust as a hospital consultant. Having gone through a disciplinary procedure culminating in a disciplinary hearing, he was dismissed. No internal appeal had been carried out before Mr Puri sought judicial review of the decision to dismiss him on the basis that he had not received a fair trial and, as such, his right under Article 6 of ECHR had been breached. The wording of Article 6 states that “everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law ”. Mr Puri contended that the panel who made the decision to dismiss him had not been independent as it consisted of fellow employees. He made the same point in relation to the appeal panel. He therefore sought judicial review of the decisions to appoint both panels.

The Court made clear in their judgement that Article 6 is not relevant in ordinary disciplinary proceedings, even where those proceedings could result in the termination of a particular employment. However, they noted that there is a civil right to practice a particular profession and, therefore, a disciplinary proceeding which could result in the loss of that right would engage Article 6. On the facts, this situation had not arisen in the present case and so Article 6 was not engaged. Importantly, the Court went on to note that even if it had been engaged, it did not mean that in order to comply with Article 6 his employer would have had to arrange a panel comprised of external persons in order to satisfy the independence requirement.

Article 6 has also been used successfully to argue that an employee is entitled to legal representation at an internal disciplinary hearing where the outcome of the internal disciplinary hearing could prevent that employee from working in their chosen profession.