The Court of Appeal has handed down its decision in Legal Services Commission v Yvonne Patterson, overturning the decision of the EAT.
Ms Patterson is a sole practitioner whose firm is overwhelmingly (98%) made up of legal aid work. She brought a claim in the tribunal under the Race Relations Act 1976 when she was refused a franchise, alleging that she had been discriminated against on grounds of race.
The Court of Appeal has held that the tribunal has jurisdiction to consider such a claim, because:
- (a) although Ms Paterson would not be an 'employee' of the Legal Services Commission (since she would not be required to 'personally execute any work or labour', so as to bring her within the definition of an 'employee');
- (b) a legal aid franchise is an 'authorisation or qualification' and, as the body which awards that authorisation or qualification, the Legal Services Commissions had a duty not to discriminate under section 12 of the Act.
Although the Court of Appeal were at pains to point out that they were deciding this case under the Race Relations Act 1976 only, there seems to be no good reason why it should not apply to other forms of discrimination.
This decision may result in a large number of unsuccessful franchisee applicants, particularly sole practitioners, bringing discrimination claims against the Legal Services Commission. (It does not, of course, mean they will win!)