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Observe a hearing

If you’re suing your employer in the employment tribunal, it’s sensible to observe one or two hearings first, so that you have some idea what to expect when the date for your hearing arrives.

This can be a moderately intimidating thing in itself. Most tribunal hearings are public: you’re entitled to wander in at any time during the hearing day, stay for as long as you like, and leave again when it suits you. But they don’t necessarily feel terribly public. They’re certainly not public like a railway station is public. When you arrive, you may well have your bag searched and have a metal detector passed over you. You’ll be expected to sign in at reception, and a clerk may approach you to find out who you are and what case you’re there for. Tribunal staff may give you the feeling that letting you observe a hearing is a bit of a favour.

It’s not: it’s your right. You’re entitled to be there just as a member of the public; you don’t need any special reason to be there, and you don’t need to tell anyone what your reason is if you don’t feel like it. You may be a law student. You may be a psychology student conducting some kind of observational research. You may be a party or a witness in a future case. You may be a tourist with an eccentric taste in sight-seeing. You may the the proud grannie of counsel for the respondent. You may just want to get in out of the wet. It’s no-one’s business but yours which of these categories you fall into.

If you’re there to observe a case so you know what to expect in yours, don’t feel that you’re committed to any particular case once you’re there. You can sample a few, and stay longer once you’ve found one that seems vaguely like yours. Enter and leave quietly. If you’re asked who you are, there should be no need to give any explanation beyond the fact that you’re there as an observer.

If you know that your employer is legally represented it’s probably a good idea to try and see part of a case where a lawyer is cross-examining a claimant. If you find yourself listening to learned argument between lawyers about whether or not the Part Time Workers Regulations properly implement the Directive, and your case is just unfair dismissal, it’s probably not worth staying to listen.

Some hearings are private: it should be clearly marked on the door of the hearing room if that’s the case – but if not, and you wander into a private hearing by accident, it’s not a disaster. You’ll just be asked to leave.

5 comments

  1. Michael

    I can confirm that walking into a private hearing causes no issue, beyond the potential for embarrassment.

    When I first volunteered for FRU, I went to the tribunal to observe a hearing. And managed to miss the sign saying the hearing was private.

    I walked in, and was challenged by a somewhat confused Chairman, who assumed I must be involved in the case somehow (or why would I be in a private hearing room?)

    We got it sorted out and he, very politely, threw me out.

    It was embarrassing at the time, but did no real harm whatsoever.

    • Johnny

      Hello Michael (great blog & book):
      Is there any procedural rule against electing to go self-represented even after you initially instructed solicitors / counsel. What I mean is, can the other side object if, having been represented throughout preliminary hearings and drafting of pleadings, you show up at the hearing self-represented and conduct the case thereafter by yourself?

  2. Douglas

    With the drop off of claimants who have not earned 2 years employment rights and a 70% drop in applications due to fees and a further 70% drop predicted on top of that with the latest law change. There will not be many hearings left to attend…pointless

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