Uncapped damages for Jersey doctor after the Royal Court finds that the States Employment Board breached his contract after wrongful sacking

Mr Amar Alwitry claimed that the States Employment Board (“SEB”) breached his contract of employment by wrongfully terminating it a week before he was due to take up his post as a Consultant Ophthalmologist at the Jersey General Hospital. The SEB argued that Mr Alwitry’s conduct entitled them to dismiss him and, in any event, that any damages to which he was entitled were capped by employment law legislation at a nominal level determined by his notice period.

The trial took place over 10 days in September 2018 and included evidence from key figures in Hospital management and politicians including Jersey’s former Chief Minister, Senator Ian Gorst. The case for Mr Alwitry was funded by the British Medical Association. The Solicitor General, Mark Temple QC, appeared for the SEB and was supported by Mark Sutton QC of Old Square Chambers and Advocate Stephen Meiklejohn of the Law Officer’s Department. Advocate Steven Chiddicks of Sinels appeared for Mr Alwitry and was supported by Nicholas Pointon of St John’s Chambers.

The Court found for Mr Alwitry, holding that his termination was unlawful and amounted to breach of contract. The Court further found that, upon the proper construction of the Consultant contract of employment, the SEB were not entitled to dismiss Mr Alwitry without cause and that no cause for dismissal existed in this case. Accordingly, the Court rejected the SEB’s attempt to cap Mr Alwitry’s damages at a nominal level determined by his notice period, holding that damages for such breach of contract were at large. Mr Alwitry’s damages (estimated in the millions) now fall to be assessed at a second trial dedicated to quantum.

This is a high profile and important judgment in Jersey. It illustrates that the language of employment contracts can prevent an employer from dismissing an employee without reason and render doing so a breach of contract sounding in damages at large, untrammelled by employment law legislation for unfair dismissal. This underscores the need for employees wrongfully dismissed by their employer to take considered legal advice as to the precise terms of their contract of employment and to consider whether a common law claim in the Royal Court might yield substantially greater remedies than are available from the Employment Tribunal under the statutory unfair dismissal scheme.

In the particular context of this case it establishes important security of employment for consultant clinicians employed by the Jersey General Hospital, enabling them to put the interests of patients first.