Your claim form will be one of the first things that the tribunal reads, so it is an important document. If the story you tell there is not complete, easy to follow, and convincing, you will start at a serious disadvantage. The main narrative part of the claim form that you fill in is box 5.1 for an unfair dismissal, box 6.2 for discrimination.
It is probably clearest if you divide the content of this into two main sections. Tell the story in the first part; pin on the legal labels in the second part.
1. Tell the story
Structure is important. It is much harder to follow (and therefore also to believe) a story that jumps around in time and where the reasons why things happened are not clear. Just write down the things that happened that form the basis of your claim, in the order in which they happened (that is to say, in ‘chronological’ order), and in numbered paragraphs.
You don’t need to go into huge detail here. The point of this document is to tell the tribunal what you say happened that gives you a right to compensation or some other remedy. You don’t have to tell them all about why they should believe your version of what happened: you will have a chance to do that later in your witness statement. Just tell them what happened. But you do need to tell them everything that you want to be compensated for: so don’t leave out anything that your employer did that you think was an act of discrimination, or a breach of contract, or in an unfair dismissal case, everything that was wrong with the way they went about making the decision to dismiss you.
At this stage, you don’t need to talk about the law at all. Don’t say ‘this was sex discrimination because… ‘ or ‘this was unfair because…’ – just write down the facts, in order.
Make sure the story doesn’t have any puzzling gaps in it. That is hard to do with a story that your own head is full of, so if possible, get someone else to read it and ask them if they understand what you say happened, and whether it leaves them wanting to ask ‘But why…?’ at any point.
2. Pin on the labels
Once you have finished telling the story, say what you want the tribunal to make of it. This is the moment to spell out what your claims are, in legal terms. It isn’t the place for legal argument – you don’t have to quote cases or recite bits of legislation – but you do need to explain whether you say the things that the respondent did amount to sex discrimination, or race discrimination, or disability discrimination, or unfair dismissal, or a breach of contract (and so on).
If you say you have suffered discrimination, you will almost certainly have to explain a bit more: you will need to say whether you think you have suffered direct discrimination (they treated you worse because of your sex, race etc.) or indirect discrimination (they applied a provision, criterion or practice to you that put you at a disadvantage compared to members of other groups, and they can’t justify it), or discrimination by way of victimisation (they treated you badly because you had raised other complaints of discrimination previously) – and so on.
This part can get quite complicated. Often you won’t know for sure which is the best way to put your claim. You may have to draft alternative claims – this was direct discrimination on grounds of sex, but if it wasn’t, it was indirect discrimination on grounds of sex; then again it may have been victimisation. But when you come to write this part, your task will be easier if you have set out the story clearly in numbered paragraphs first, because you will be able to refer back to those paragraphs and say things like ‘In doing the acts referred to at paragraphs x to y above, the Respondent treated the Claimant (or if you prefer ‘my employer treated me’) less favourably than it would have treated a man in the same circumstances.’