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Sexual Harassment Case – Independent Review
An independent review of the Welsh Assembly Government’s handling of a sexual harassment case found that the original investigation was conducted with a commitment to thoroughness and fairness, and that the conclusions reached were reasonable under the circumstances.
The review makes a number of recommendations on how policies and procedures for dealing with inappropriate behaviour in the workplace and the investigation of personal grievances could be improved.
In January 2008, Permanent Secretary Sir Jon Shortridge ordered an immediate independent review of the case after Cardiff County Court upheld complaints by Christine Davies (previously Bevan) against Graham Evans under the Protection from Harassment Act and Common Law in relation to trespass against the person. Both were employees of the Welsh Assembly Government at the time of the complaints.
The basis of the allegations considered by the County Court involved essentially the same matters considered by the Welsh Assembly Government in the course of its Dignity at Work investigation in 2003/4. Following a six month investigation, the Welsh Assembly Government found that there was insufficient evidence to uphold the complaint by Christine Davies against Graham Evans. Mrs Davies pursued a civil claim in the Cardiff County Court and the trial was conducted between 2 and 8 January 2008. The County Court upheld Mrs Davies’ complaints against Graham Evans.
One of the key aims of the independent review was to understand why the outcome was different and whether lessons could be learned for the future. The review team were asked to consider:
- The robustness and reliability of the investigation process undertaken in relation to the original complaint.
- What action should be taken in relation to the continued employment of Graham Evans in the light of the County Court judgement. Mr Evans subsequently resigned from the employment of the Welsh Assembly Government.
- Whether the Welsh Assembly Government’s Dignity at Work Policy and procedure remains fit for purpose.
- What changes to policies and procedures might be considered by the Welsh Assembly Government.
The independent legal review, led by Kim Howell of leading Welsh law practice Geldards LLP, was granted access to all the evidence held by the Assembly Government and given the freedom to interview anyone material to the investigation, including present and former staff, Christine Davies and Graham Evans. The findings and recommendations of the review have been reached independently of the Welsh Assembly Government.
The main conclusions of the independent review are as follows:
- The original investigation was carried out with a genuine commitment to thoroughness and fairness and was compliant with the agreed Dignity at Work Procedure. But the fact that the procedure was new and largely untried and untested in relation to serious complaints led to some weaknesses in the process and gaps in the evidence.
- On the different outcomes reached by the Welsh Assembly Government and County Court, the review concluded that ‘there is nothing uncommon about two panels reaching entirely different conclusions in relation to the same set of facts. The Dignity at Work Panel and the County Court Judge, although considering the same complaint, were presented with evidence which differed in some material respects and appears to have been incomplete in both cases. It is also clear that the two Decision Makers attached very different weight to different aspects of the evidence and we regard that as being the principal determinant of the different outcomes.
- The review had no hesitation in concluding that the conclusions reached by the Panel and adopted by the Decision Making Officer were reasonable conclusions to make in the circumstances. As such, the review did not consider that the outcome of the Dignity at Work investigation to be unreliable. However the lack of opportunity for the Panel or the Decision Maker to assess the credibility of the parties for themselves has caused the review to conclude that the investigation process undertaken in this case was not as robust or procedurally reliable as the County Court process.
- In considering whether the Dignity at Work policy remains fit for purpose, the investigation concluded that it is a complex procedure to operate and that it does not work well in combination with related policies such as the Grievance and Disciplinary procedures.
- The effective investigation of personal grievances that currently fall under the Dignity at Work Policy could be dealt with more effectively by using the Disciplinary Procedure and an adapted Grievance Procedure according to the nature and seriousness of particular complaints.
- The review recognised that improvements to the procedure have been made since 2003 but that further improvements could still be introduced
- The review sets out a number of proposed changes as to how the Welsh Assembly Government might deal with behaviour standards and personal grievances in the future.
Sir Jon Shortridge, who retires this week, welcomed the report and said it showed that Assembly Government officials invested substantial time and effort in seeking to establish the truth and sought to treat both parties fairly and equally throughout. He said:
It identifies certain deficiencies in the process we followed but concludes robustly that the conclusions reached through our Dignity at Work procedures were reasonable under the circumstances. It will be for my successor to decide how best to implement the recommendations.
The main conclusion I take from the report is that it is essential for staff working for the Assembly Government to conduct themselves properly at all times and treat their colleagues appropriately. This case has shown that where members of staff fall below this standard they create problems for themselves, their colleagues and for the organisation.
We were faced with such problems and this independent review recognises that we tried very hard to deal with the consequences in a fair, proportionate and appropriate