This morning I acted as my own legal representative for the first time. It was both intimidating and exciting.
I wrote on my previous post about my Employment Tribunal claim for non-payment of wages and constructive dismissal. I described how I worked for 5 weeks as an English language teacher without pay, despite being given a contract. The excuse was that I was going to be paid but there was trouble with the bank. It has been seven months and I have not seen a penny of it.
Today was the big day. I nervously deliberated about what to wear. I decided on a dark grey business dress with pin stripes which stopped just before the knee and was slightly figure hugging, with opaque black tights. It did not have sleeves so I wore a simple black cardigan, as I knew from being a legal secretary that sleeveless clothing was frowned on in legal proceedings.
I attempted to print off extra documents with my expensive white elephant of a printer (it only works when it feels like it) and spent extra time preening. Thankfully two of my former colleagues, Marilyn and Karen, who had also not been paid, agreed to meet me there and were both allowed in the Hearing room.
We went into a concealed small entrance into what looked like unassuming offices. A receptionist told us to go up to the Claimant’s area and we were met by a kindly, reassuring usher, who was sympathetic and a good listener. She told us how the building used to be a children’s school and still had a playground on the roof. There was another Claimant in there, a middle aged bespectacled man, red-faced and perspiring profusely. He looked in horror at my chronological, alphabetically ordered court bundle, no doubt wondering whether my overkill was common practice. We were told we may have to wait an hour, as he had been called in first. However soon after she told us this, another Judge magically appeared and within a mere half an hour I was ushered in.
I helped myself to a glass of water with trembling hands and waited for the Judge to arrive. A few minutes later he entered. He was a tall, middle aged, slightly balding man with glasses and an intellectual, laid-back air. He instantly dismissed all formalities with a wave of his hand and said there was no need to go to the Witness Box, as no Respondent had arrived. He explained that this was considered admission of guilt in itself, as by non-attendance the Respondent had suggested that there was nothing to defend. It was a Remedy hearing, so he had already considered my evidence and made a decision in my absence.
“this is a sad situation which I see time and time again”
He told me that I was entitled to gross compensation rather than net compensation for my Schedule of Loss. This is a document showing how much the company owed me for work, holiday and notice pay, and how much I had comparatively lost in wages since my alternative employment. Jobseekers Allowance was not added on to the claim. The Benefits Office would issue a claim to the Respondent for public money owed as a result of my resignation following non-payment. I was not entitled to statutory pay as I had not worked there for two years. I reminded him that I was claiming under the exception of asserting a statutory right. He got rather irritated, shifted about in his chair and said “I am aware of that”. I quickly apologised and accepted his explanation.
We moved swiftly on and it emerged that the Judge agreed with everything I had claimed for. He told me a Judgement ordering the pay of almost £6 000 was in order. However, he said that I could not enforce any Order he made in the Employment Tribunal. I would have to transfer it into the County Court for that, but he believed that was free. He suggested he had previously worked in the legal field before becoming a Magistrate, which was reassuring.
I pointed out that my former colleagues were victims too, at which point he remarked on our “sad situation” and said it was something he saw “time and time again” with “a steady stream” of cases coming through “all the time”.
“this new change is a rogue’s judgement and will side with employers”
He also warned that it was “highly unlikely” the Respondent would pay as a result of the Order and that I would probably need to pay to get it enforced. However I have heard that all my former employees have been dismissed and she has just established a third business with a different name.
“there will no longer be any justice for the common man or woman”
We then had a discussion about the injustice of legal fees coming in to the system from the end of July. Again, he completely agreed with me. He stated that although he was supposed to be politically impartial, he had to say that the new change to the system was a “rogue’s judgement, as you would expect under the Conservatives”, incriminating employees when employers are just as often at fault as those they hire. He agreed that there would be far less cases being pursued like mine, resulting in more scam employers getting away with it.
He said “there will no longer be any justice for the common man or woman like you and me”. He told me that a case like mine would cost in the region of £1 300, and that even if I just pursued the most simple claim it would still be £350.
We left and as I walked down the steps of the humble old building I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. It was finally over. Or was it?
We had a coffee in some public gardens with a large fountain. We watched two men barbecuing chicken legs until they were ticked off by one park warden, then his colleague. After a while a “bobby on a bike” turned up and then they finally agreed to leave. They strolled off with baggy pants falling down as soon as the policeman began to talk into his radio.
The sun was out and I felt so content until I felt the sun burning my shoulders. We went for lunch in a cafe and talked more about our experiences. Marilyn, as the unofficial detective of our group of former (unpaid) employees had found out all sorts of information about our former Director.
Emboldened by my first legal representation, I decided we should march down to the Police station right then and there and update them on their ongoing investigation. The detective was absolutely excellent. She came out to meet us and attempted to take us into an interview room, but there were none free. I updated her on Proceedings and she was most surprised that I would not be able to enforce anything. After all, what is the point of an Order that the miscreant will just ignore?
After a progress update we felt reassured. Marilyn and Karen were grateful to meet her, as they had been interviewed by some of her colleagues previously.
I walked out into the sunshine with them feeling rather proud. Things were making progress, I had been awarded more than I claimed for, a Judgement would be sent in the post and the Police enquiry was picking up pace.
Maybe I should train to be a lawyer…