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Delay in Disciplinary Procedures

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[Thanks to Nadia Montraghi of Old Square Chambers for preparing this case summary]

Is there an implied term in contracts of employment that disciplinary processes be conducted fairly and without undue delay? In Dr Lim v Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust, the High Court held there is.

Dr Lim is a consultant anaesthetist employed by the defendant Trust. Dr Lim's breach of contract claim concerned a proposed combined capability and conduct hearing.

In respect of the proposed capability hearing, Dr Lim claimed that the Trust had been acting in breach of his contract of employment by referring him to a capability panel without first referring him to NCAS to carry out an assessment to determine whether any of the deficiencies in his practise could be addressed by way of an educational or organisational action plan. The Court held that the Trust was required to refer Dr Lim to NCAS and also to wait until an NCAS assessment panel had considered whether an assessment should be carried out and also to decide that no action plan would have a realistic chance of success. Only then could the Trust proceed directly to a capability hearing. As such the Trust was held to be in breach of contract.

In respect of the proposed conduct hearing, Dr Lim argued that the Trust had breached his contract by seeking to revive allegations of misconduct some three years after the occurrence of the events upon which the allegations were based. The Court however held that, whilst there was an implied (and possibly also express) term requiring that disciplinary processes be conducted fairly and without undue delay, the Trust had not on the facts of the case breached that obligation.