Last week’s Court of Appeal judgment finds that the then Education Secretary Ed Balls acted unlawfully in removing Sharon Shoesmith from her post as Director of Children’s Services, and that Haringey Council also acted unlawfully when it went on to terminate her underlying contract of employment without notice. According to press reports, both losing parties are planning an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Behind these bald legal findings are a number of undercurrents, notably the need to hold public servants accountable when things go badly wrong (in this case the death of baby P) and to avoid the public criticism generated by paying compensation which can be seen as a “reward for failure”. However in this case is it probable that the pressure to act quickly and firmly has added considerably to the final cost to the public purse. Leaving aside the significant legal costs involved, and subject to any appeal, Haringey are now left in a position where Ms Shoesmith is able to argue that since the original decision to sack her was a nullity, her contract has still not been brought to an end, two and a half year after she was purportedly dismissed. The Court of Appeal points out that what Haringey should and could have done as a fall-back position was to give her due contractual notice, without prejudice to their primary case that her summary dismissal following the Secretary of State’s direction was lawful.