Disgraced lawyer Sacha Beacham's failure to meet a personal-grievance deadline for her client has resulted in the Employment Court overturning an Employment Relations Authority determination that a case could not be heard.
Chief Judge Graeme Colgan said in Hastings that social worker Waake Davies claimed he was dismissed from domestic-violence agency Dove in September 2011 because he refused to stop living with a woman whose children attended the school where he worked.
He consulted Ms Beacham 10 days later regarding his employment concerns and marital separation.
Ms Beacham wrote to Dove, saying she was considering Mr Davies' options, and prepared a draft letter raising his grievance, but did not contact Mr Davies until shortly before Dove's 90-day deadline, when she texted him. They immediately met and he approved the draft letter, but it arrived at Dove one or two days after the deadline.
Dove did not agree for the grievance to be heard with the authority, which blamed Mr Davies for the missed deadline, even though Ms Beacham said she was responsible.
"It is self-evident that Mr Davies had not provided a clear request to have his personal grievance raised until 15 December, when he had a session with Ms Beacham," the authority said. "He has to take responsibility, not the agent."
However, Judge Colgan said Mr Davies had a reasonable expectation that Ms Beacham would not only advise him, but protect his interests.
"The authority should be loath to bar and bolt the doors of justice on very technical grounds and its decision makes these unduly onerous to overcome," Judge Colgan said.
"How is it, in these circumstances, that the grievant cannot have his grievance dealt with on its merits and is left, arguably, only with the expensive and difficult option of attempting to sue the barrister in negligence?"
He set aside the authority's determination. The case could not be referred back to the authority but had to be heard in the court.
"Given the unfortunately long delays since Mr Davies was dismissed as a result of this litigation, mediation at the earliest available opportunity should be undertaken and the parties should co-operate with the Mediation Service in that regard," Judge Colgan said.
Ms Beacham had appeared regularly as a duty solicitor in the Hastings District Court but withdrew after her third drink-driving conviction in 2011.
Last year she pleaded guilty to obstruction and resisting police, after clinging to the window wipers of a friend's car while being arrested on New Year's Eve.
To the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal she pleaded guilty to to two charges of bringing the profession into disrepute and one charge of misconduct, relating to an incident during a strip search while in custody.
By "a fine margin" the tribunal did not strike her off, instead censuring and suspending her for two years.