Stefan Cross Solicitors expanding into Scotland

by James Hamilton
© Sunday Herald
Originally published: 30.11.2008
The most-feared no-win no-fee lawyer in Britain is to open his first office in Scotland as part of a drive to win "hundreds of millions" more in compensation for workers cheated out of a fair wage.

Stefan Cross, whose Newcastle-based firm has already left Scottish councils facing an equal pay bill of around 500 million after years of systematically underpaying female staff, intends to create a permanent operation in Edinburgh next year.

In an interview with the Sunday Herald, Cross said councils now faced additional compensation claims running into hundreds of millions, some from new claimants and some from existing claimants who had been poorly compensated the first time around.

He also said his company would also use Scotland to "test-bed" compensation cases against private companies who had discriminated against their staff, using a mix of no-win no-fee and legal aid.

The new office will be headed by Carol Fox, a former Labour Party candidate and the sister of Colin Fox, leader of the Scottish Socialist Party.

Until now, Stefan Cross Solicitors has focused on equal pay claims in the public sector, helping women recover up to five years of underpayments in Scotland. His company has so far taken up around 10,000 cases against councils in Scotland, and around 2000 cases against the NHS.

In future, Fox will also specialise in winning compensation for individuals discriminated against by both public and private sector employers on a wide range of grounds, including age, religion, disability, sexual orientation and pregnancy, as well as unfair redundancies. Cross dismissed suggestions that compensation claims were the last thing councils or private businesses need in a recession.

"If you followed that through, no one would ever exercise any rights, because it always costs people money," he told the Sunday Herald. "Awards for compensation are the only way that the legal system has for giving people redress. We would be in a chaotic situation if you just said, Oh, we can't afford it. I'm just going to ignore people's rights'."

Despite the Equal Pay Act being in force more than 25 years, for every 1 a man earns in the UK, the average full-time female worker earns 83p, and the average part-time female worker just 62p. Besides winning compensation from public employers who failed to pay women the same as men, Cross has also taken action against trade unions who protected men's wages at the expense of female staff when negotiating what was supposed to be a fairer pay regime called Single Status since 1999.

He estimated more than 100,000 female council staff in Scotland could start new compensation claims against their employers for paying them less than their male equivalents.

Cross, 48, has been accused by his critics of raking in a fortune on the back of his cases. In certain cases in England, he takes 25% of the compensation award, but in Scotland he takes 10% plus VAT.

"I'm the best at what we do. If you're the leader in the field, you get the rewards that go with it," he said. "What we are doing is completely new stuff that should have been done by the unions on behalf of their members. They had 10 years to do it, and we filled that vacuum.

"The way that we work gives people access. If you tell a cleaner that the legal costs are going to be 200 an hour and the bill may be 15,000, they wouldn't touch it with a bargepole. So if you use a traditional model of an hourly rate, people would be so scared of the possible charges. This is about access to justice."

But Joe di Paolo, head of the employers organisation at the council body Cosla, questioned Cross's motives. "He's not doing it out of altruism, he's doing it to make money," he said.

"Councils have already paid out a lot of money. If there are more successful cases, they will be required to find the money out of current budgets."