Don’t ask stupid questions

The tribunal has power to order either party to provide additional information or answers to written questions. Requesting additional details of the other side’s statement of case (that is, the employee’s claim or the employer’s response) is often regarded by advisers as a routine part of case preparation.

More often than not, a request for additional information and/or written answers is helpful, and certainly it should always be considered (see Chapter 3 of the book for general guidance on this).

But don’t dream up questions just for the sake of having some questions to ask. Here’s an example drawn almost exactly from life. The culprit happens to be a respondent in this example, but the same principle applies to both sides.

Of: – 3. “On several occasions during this period, Mr Jones patted the Claimant on the bottom as he passed her standing at the photocopier or by her filing cabinet.”

Please explain what is meant by “patted her on the bottom.”

Please provide details of each and every occasion it is alleged that Mr Jones “patted” the Claimant on the bottom, including:
(a) where specifically on the Claimant’s anatomy she claims to have been “patted”
(b) what the Claimant claims to have been patted with;
(c) the date each incident is said to have taken place;
(d) the precise location of each alleged incident.

Questions (a) and (b) are plain daft. What part of ‘patted on the bottom’ does the respondent not understand? Clearly the questioner doesn’t have any real purpose in mind: he just thinks he ought to ask some questions. He has seen someone else’s request for additional information, and he has drafted something that he thinks looks roughly similar.

Questions (c) and (d) are not very much better, in that they are most unlikely either to elicit further information or to produce a tactical advantage for the respondent. Most likely the claimant’s reply will simply indicate that she does not know either the precise number of occasions on which this happened, or the dates on which it happened. She just knows that it happened a few times.

Sometimes a question that is unlikely to produce further information is nevertheless useful to focus the other party’s mind on the weakness of its case. But it is no particular weakness in the claimant’s case that she cannot say exactly when or how often her boss patted her on the bottom: she may quite credibly have ignored the behaviour, or tried to suppress it by a certain frostiness in her manner, before it escalated to the point that she started to think about a tribunal claim. It certainly doesn’t discredit her claim that she did not record every incident in a contemporaneous diary.

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