Augustine Clement

The CoA in DPP Law Ltd v Greenberg, upheld the decision by an employer to dismiss a senior lawyer for accepting a gift of £150.00 from the father of a client. For course, the fact that the policy of the employer prohibited the acceptance of significant gifts from clients and the client was in receipt of legal aid, might have played on the minds of court. The case illustrates the need for appropriate policies to guide staff conduct.

Mr Greenberg had been fired by Liverpool firm DPP Law over allegations of gross misconduct arising from his acceptance of £150 from the father of one of his legally aided clients. The employment tribunal rejected his claim for unfair dismissal, but the EAT said this decision was not sufficiently ‘rooted in findings of fact’.

However, Popplewell LJ concluded that the EAT judge, not the initial tribunal judge, had fallen into error. He said the appeal tribunal ‘failed to adopt the proper approach’ and its decision was not based on a fair reading of the employment tribunal decision as a whole. The judge therefore allowed the DPP Law appeal and effectively ruled that Mr Greenberg was not unfairly dismissed.

In late 2016, he was instructed to represent a teenager on a charge of grievous bodily harm with intent. The suspect’s father confirmed that he had met Greenberg in a pub car park and put £150 in notes through his car window.

Mr Greenberg told his firm that the money was a gift and at no point had he asked for it. He understood that a gift of significant value should be refused unless the client took independent legal advice, but he did not consider this to be significant. If he was wrong about this, he apologised and offered to return the money.

At the employment tribunal, Judge Ferguson concluded that the firm held a genuine belief that Greenberg had committed an act of gross misconduct, and that summary dismissal fell within the range of reasonable responses. The firm, it was found, was entitled to decide that Greenberg’s conduct amount to a breach of the legal aid contract, compromised his integrity and risked jeopardising the firm’s relationship with the Legal Aid Agency.

On first appeal, the EAT judge was said to have found the case against Mr Greenberg to be ‘essentially circumstantial and inferential’ and had not evaluated why he was dismissed.  However, Popplewell LJ said the employment tribunal had set out the law correctly and identified the correct questions that needed answering.