One of the difficult things about running a tribunal case for the first time is the uncertainty about what needs to be done before the hearing. The first step – putting in your ET1 – is fairly obvious, but after that it is easy to get overwhelmed.
If the tribunal has made detailed case management orders, this makes things simpler. If you follow them, you should do most of what you need.
Otherwise, it is worth remembering that there are three main things you need to sort out before you reach the tribunal. This is a gross simplification, but it is worth bearing in mind if you are uncertain what to do next.
When the hearing starts you want to have an agreed bundle of documents, containing all the relevant evidence.
Normally, this means you need to do two things: discovering and bundling.
Discovery is the process of figuring out what documents you have; then asking the respondent for documents they have, and getting a tribunal order if necessary.
Bundling is the process of drawing up an index of the relevant documents (not the same thing as all the documents), putting them in chronological order and paginating them. Paginate is a fancy lawyer’s term for writing page numbers on them. Then you have to agree the bundle with the respondent.
All of the people who are going to give evidence should have prepared a witness statement and these should be exchanged with the respondent.
Know what you are going to say
Basically, you need to be ready to do two things: cross-examine witnesses and make submissions.
What this will involve will vary from case to case. An experienced advocate, dealing with a simple case, might just jot a few points on a sheet of paper. On the other hand, in a complicated case, or if it will be your first time in a tribunal, you will want to do a lot more.
A good starting point is a list of issues the tribunal will need to decide. Once you have that, you can expand it into a list of things you want to ask each witness about and another list of areas you need to address in submissions.
Detailed lists of questions get a bad press in legal circles. The potential disadvantage is that they may turn you into a robot – asking one question after another in a monotone, paying no attention to what the witness says. But this can be avoided with a little care and attention.
The advantage of detailed lists of questions is that they make sure you do not miss anything and allow you to plan, in detail, the order and approach of your questions. For beginners, this is particularly valuable.
You should also consider written submissions. In complicated cases, these are almost vital. In a simple case, the tribunal will get much less advantage from them. But this does not mean they are not useful. By writing down, in full, what you want to say, you will make sure you have the issues, the evidence and your arguments thoroughly worked out.
Unfortunately, you will normally not be able to complete your written submissions before the hearing starts. This is because you will not know what evidence is going to come out during the hearing. The best approach is to leave gaps in your submissions, where this evidence can be slotted in later.