Monday, August 06, 2012

Undue Process

ICLA logo (new)

As reported here last Thursday, my good friend Chris Knowles of the International Civil Liberties Alliance (ICLA) was fired from his job at the Leeds City Council for exercising his rights of free speech and free association.

ICLA has now posted a press release about what happened.

You’ll notice that Chris was never informed of the specific charges against him, nor was he allowed to defend himself or have counsel present. He was simply told that he had “engaged in political activities, which could be viewed as improper activities for an employee of the council”.

At no point did the LCC follow its own definition of due process. These are the actions of a totalitarian police state:

ICLA Member Chris Knowles Dismissed By Leeds City Council Without Due Process

6 August 2012, LEEDS, UK: On 2 August, Chris Knowles, a member of the International Civil Liberties Alliance (ICLA), was summarily dismissed from his job in the Council’s Children’s Services Department. This follows a seven month “investigation” and suspension of Mr. Knowles, initiated in December 2011 by a denunciation to the Leeds Council by the Sunday Times about Mr Knowles’ “political activities.”

The facts:

Chris KnowlesChris Knowles is one of the main contributors to both the ICLA Mission Statement and the recent 2012 Brussels Declaration To Safeguard Individual Liberties and Human Rights, and the associated Brussels Process that was endorsed by a recent conference in the European Parliament. He has presented testimony on protecting civil liberties at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw in October 2009. He is an editor at the ICLA website and has been involved in education and outreach to public and policymakers on the threat to human rights from totalitarian systems, specifically particular Shariah doctrines. He works with a wide range of politicians, journalists, writers, grass roots activists, and intellectuals from many backgrounds, ethnicities and religions to preserve civil liberties and human rights for women, gays, people of all religions, apostates, and moderate Muslims, all threatened by Islamic Shariah doctrines.

Background:

In early December 2011, a representative of The Sunday Times newspaper contacted Leeds City Council with allegations against Mr. Knowles’ political views. On December 15, based on these allegations, the Council suspended Mr. Knowles in a private meeting, stating that:

“…the council has received allegations that you may have engaged in political activities, which could be viewed as improper activities for an employee of the council to be engaging in, and contrary to the councils values and equal opportunities policies.”

The Council assured Mr. Knowles that the meeting would be kept confidential, as required to protect employee rights. Three days later, on December 18, The Sunday Times published an article about Mr. Knowles quoting a “spokeswoman” from Leeds City Council who stated:

“We take the allegations made by The Sunday Times very seriously and a member of staff has been suspended while we undertake a thorough investigation. If there has been any breach of the council’s policies or code of conduct we will take appropriate action.”

Mr. Knowles filed a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission regarding the article. At an investigatory meeting on 20 December 2011 Mr. Knowles was assured that the question of a breach of confidentiality regulations would be looked into. He received no further information on the subject.

For the next seven months, Mr. Knowles was told only that the investigation was ongoing. He received no further information on the “charges” nor any explanation as to why his political activities on behalf of human rights and civil liberties would be contrary to the values of Leeds City Council nor why having political opinions or personal beliefs were a cause of official inquiry and professional suspension

In a July 17, 2012 letter, the UNISON trade union, of which Mr. Knowles has been a member since early 1996, notified Mr. Knowles that they would not represent him:

“UNISON cannot agree to represent you as in our view there is prima facia a conflict with the allegations against you and UNISON’s policies and rules.”

On August 2, 2012, Mr. Knowles attended the meeting at which he was dismissed. The July 27 notice for that meeting stated:

“The investigation into allegations that you have engaged in political activities, which could be viewed as improper activities for an employee of the council to be engaging in, has been completed.

You are required to attend a meeting….”

That notice did not provide further information on why his political activities could be viewed as “improper activities.”

A Chief Inspector of the Police was present when he arrived. Mr. Knowles’ lawyer was not permitted to attend the meeting. At the end of a very brief meeting Mr Knowles was dismissed with immediate effect and without the right to appeal. Mr. Knowles was told that Leeds City Council viewed the ‘offence’ committed by Mr Knowles to be so grave, even though it has never been named nor described, that he would not even be allowed to have a disciplinary hearing at which he could refute any evidence that was brought against him. No evidence was presented against him. A letter sent the following day stated:

“The council has concluded that your behaviours and values are so different from the council’s values, that this is a fundamental breach of your employment contract.”

Mr Knowles has never been told what he is supposed to have done wrong. He is simply being dismissed without a hearing because his “values” are apparently different to those of Leeds City Council. He has not been told what these values are or what gives Leeds City Council the right to decide the values employees are supposed to have. It is simply a matter of sacking him because of his personal and private opinions.

In consultation with his legal representation, Mr. Knowles will file with the employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal and breach of human rights.

About

The International Civil Liberties Alliance (ICLA) is a human rights organisation that aims to uphold democracy, freedom and individual liberties.

8 comments:

Dymphna said...

I have mentioned before that Chris Knowles' case was Kafkaesque. To explain more fully what I mean, here's the wiki on the novel most closely hewing to Chris' experience:

The Castle

And closer to home, an English reference from John Dunne, now hopelessly anachronistic:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

To his fellow countryman who wrote to complain we were supressing his own "free speech" by refusing to permit him to call names in the last post about Chris' travails, I would remind/inform you: ICLA is not a political party, it is a human rights organisation.

I don't believe that Leeds would have concerned itself with Chris' doings on his own time if he were aligned with the ruling class.

If Britain still had journalists with integrity, this witch hunt would never have happened.

Anonymous said...

This seems relevant........

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7364%3Arepresentation-of-the-people&catid=52%3Aadult-social-services-articles&Itemid=29

Nick said...

Absolutely Dymphna, and as I have said to Chris the Information Commissioner's Office will provide advice on how to obtain (legally) all relevant documentation from the council.

If as they assert an investigation took place then that will be documented internally within their organisation.

You can officially request that information, and they have to comply. If they don't then the ICO will step in.

If they fail to provide that documentation at a tribunal hearing, they will lose.

You can also request such documentation (and more) as part of the initial proceedings leading up to an industrial tribunal.

And finally, another point: it may be worth contacting ACAS who may act as a middleman, so to speak, prior to reaching the tribunal itself.

If the former employer refuses to provide the relevant documentation, the ACAS guy could tell them they have to do comply (in addition to the ICO). If they have breached their own procedures, he could tell them so. If they have no real grounds for dismissal, he could tell them so. Contacting ACAS may save Chris from going to the tribunal itself.

Then again it might be a waste of time because they act in an advisory capacity and a former employer is free to ignore anything they say, and take their chances at a tribunal.

Some food for thought ...

Nick said...

I have been involved in two employment tribunals. This is an adversarial process - neither side wants to lose. And my experience tells me, unfortunately, that you needn't expect a former employer to play fair, or to tell the truth.

So it is a good idea to get their documentation - if you're dealing with a council they will have a lot of internally generated documentation, emails etc.

As I recall, you can ask for relevant documentation as part of the tribunal process, and they're obliged to provide it. (If they don't, then rely on it at the tribunal, you can raise that with the panel & it'll go against them.)

Note though that they are only obliged to give you existing documents - they are not obliged to "create" any new documents, or to make up a document which didn't already exist. So watch out for that.

But if you get them to say one thing at a tribunal, then produce a document showing that it's not true, that's always an entertaining moment!

Somebody somewhere must have made a decision to give Chris his P45. So there will be a paper trail. Contact the ICO & track it down. They'll help you.

And remember - it's the council. They're not superstars, they're just regular people, and they don't have giants in the legal field working for them. So it's not going to be too hard to trip them up. Very do-able.

And that would be bad for them - and good for you!

Nick said...

Having some experience working with big organisations like local councils: it's difficult to get anyone to put their head above the parapet & make a decision about anything. A lot of clock watching going on in council offices.

But someone in the council must have made a decision about this. So that person needs to be identified, the date they made their decision identified, and the reasons they made their decision identified.

Someone somewhere must have decided to have this "investigation" in the first place. They too must be identified. It's the council, and people don't like taking responsibility for anything - but someone decided to start an investigation. It didn't start itself.

Who carried out this so-called "investigation"? Get names. Get backgrounds. Ask for documentation.

They can't just turn up at a tribunal and try to make their case on the day.

You can't sack someone, then make up a reason afterwards. The tribunal panel won't be too impressed with that approach.

Someone made a decision about this. Who? When? On what basis?

If this person made a decision, they already have all the information they need to do so, and they know why they did so. Therefore there will be no problem providing that information to your solicitor now.

If they refuse to provide you with that information prior to the tribunal, then the panel will take a dim view of that.

If they do provide that info now, it will be dated, and that information can be proven (by you) to have existed prior to them sending out your P45.

And you can show that they never told you why they wanted to dismiss you prior to doing so - they only told you afterwards (too late in the eyes of the tribunal panel.)

Get as much documentation as you can from them. Establish a time line (that is key!) and get names - who said what, and when.

You may get legal aid for all the prep work, but that may not be the case if you have to actually go the tribunal (if no settlement is reached beforehand) - again something to look into.

I hired a top notch solicitor and he chewed my former employer to pieces - I won & was awarded a considerable sum of money but my legal fees ate it all up, and more. So do your sums!

Nick said...

"The Freedom of Information Act, Environmental Information Regulations and INSPIRE Regulations give you the right to access official information held by public authorities. This includes decisions about local hospitals, money raised from car parks, minutes of meetings and geographic information. This information must be recorded, such as in documents, emails, notes, videos, letters and even audio tapes."

ICO - Access to Official Information

Polymath said...

Mr. Knowles should also subpoena the Union officials who told him they couldn't represent him to find out exactly what they were told to dissuade them from defending him. That could lead to a big libel verdict.

Reality Check said...

Wow, fascist England is going down and taking the good with it.