Date: 19 December 2008
Thousands of council and NHS workers in Scotland who signed up with an English lawyer to fight their equal pay claims are in line for windfall payments after a home help took him to court and won.
The Court of Session ruled yesterday that Newcastle-based Stefan Cross’s contract with Edinburgh council worker Jacqueline Quinn is unlawful and unenforceable in Scotland, and banned him for pursuing her for his bill of £500.
But the real winners could be low-paid health and local authority workers all over Scotland who can now reclaim the 10% plus VAT that Mr Cross routinely deducted from their equal pay settlements – some of which were in excess of £10,000.
UNISON’s Scottish secretary Matt Smith said: "Having your own contract with your clients declared unlawful by the Courts must be the ultimate humiliation for a lawyer.
"The unions have always warned against the false allure of commercial solicitors who claim that they can deliver compensation more effectively or quickly than a trade union.
"We urge all our members to claim back the thousands of pounds Mr Cross has unlawfully deducted from their settlements.
"We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mrs Quinn for exposing the flaws in these contracts.”
Home help Jacqueline Quinn, from Edinburgh, said:"I thought Mr Cross would get me a quick settlement of my equal pay claim, but I didn't realise there was a horrific penalty clause in his contract.
"When I got fed up waiting for him to do something and went back to the union lawyers, he started demanding £500 and that made me really angry – especially since he had done nothing.
"I am delighted to have won my case and will be even more pleased if it means colleagues can keep all of their hard-earned equal pay settlements."
Syd Smith of Thompsons Solicitors, who fought the case on the union’s behalf, explained: "The Court of Session ruled against Mr Cross because his contract gives him a financial interest in the outcome of the case, but the Scottish Courts have held that, for the protection of clients, such contracts are unlawful and therefore unenforceable.
"Nor can solicitors in Scotland charge blanket fees regardless of the work involved as Mr Cross tried to do in Mrs Quinn's case.
"Mr Cross chose not to defend Mrs Quinn's action."
See: Home help takes equal pay lawyer to court
Also: UNISON UK News