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Stephen Butler successfully acts for teacher in Queens Bench appeal


In Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth [2017] EWHC 2019 Mr Justice Foskett noted that the Appellant, Ms Agoreyo, ‘had the good fortune of representation at the hearing of the appeal by Counsel instructed by the Bar Pro Bono Unit. Mr Stephen Butler […] produced a first-class Skeleton Argument with appropriate references to the evidence, the judgment and the relevant authorities […] which were properly focused on the true issues in the appeal. […] the Appellant could not have been better represented.’

Ms Agoreyo, an experienced primary school teacher with less than two years’ qualifying service, was suspended from employment during the investigation into the accusation of having used excessive physical force in handling difficult children in less than three weeks.

In response to being suspended, the Claimant resigned and brought a breach of contract claim in the County Court, seeking damages for the financial loss caused by the termination of her contract of employment. As the claim was unsuccessful in the County Court in a liability-only trial, the Claimant appealed to the High Court.

Mr Justice Foskett acceded to the argument advanced by Stephen Butler, that the Johnson Exclusion Area, which had been invoked, cannot be relied upon by employers to avoid a civil court determining whether or not there has been a repudiatory breach of contract by the employer.

The so-called ‘Johnson Exclusion Area’ (named after Johnson v Unisys Limited [2001] UKHL 13; [2003] 1 AC 518) limits a claimant’s ability to recover contractual damages arising out of a dismissal in breach of contract in circumstances where the claimant has less than the two years’ qualifying service necessary to bring a claim for unfair dismissal.

The High Court rejected the County Court’s decision that the suspension was lawful and held that it was a repudiatory breach of contract. The court held that suspension is not a neutral act and should not be ‘knee-jerk reaction’, and that the school had failed to prove that suspension was a reasonable and necessary step.

The decision provides a useful reminder to practitioners that suspension is a detrimental step which must be justified, and ‘safeguarding’ concerns are not, necessarily, sufficient to warrant suspension: all of the relevant circumstances must be weighed against each other.

The judgment is available to read here.

Barristers: Stephen Butler
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