Tagged: procedure

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Written applications and judicial working conditions

The life of an employment judge is not an easy one. (This conclusion is not based on direct personal experience or a statistically robust survey, but I feel sure it’s true.)

Every day, each tribunal centre gets a heavy load of written applications: for postponements; for discovery; for a pre-hearing review to be listed; for a judgment to be reviewed and so on. Most of these are dealt with by whatever judges are on hand. Some may be spending the whole day on paper matters – but more likely, your application will be dealt with by someone who is fitting in paper work during the lunch break or at the end of the hearing day.

So your application will probably be dealt with in a hurry by someone busy, who has not previously had anything to do with the case and has a large stack of other applications to get through.

This should determine how you write your application. You need to make it as easy as possible for the judge to understand – fast – what you want, why you want it, and why you ought to get it. So it should have the following features:

  1. It should be concise.
  2. It should be direct, and make it absolutely clear what you’re asking the judge to do, and why.
  3. It should include all the information the judge needs to decide the application.
  4. It should leave out anything that the judge doesn’t need to know to decide the application.

Getting the balance of providing enough, but not too much, information can be difficult. The application should summarise all the information or background the judge needs to decide it. If you need to refer to any other documents – such as previous correspondence – copies should be attached. It should not assume that the judge has any prior knowledge of what the case is about or what has happened so far. But at the same time, it shouldn’t burden the judge with information she doesn’t need to decide the application. This will just make her job more difficult and risk obscuring the relevant information.

Some examples may help.

Example 1:

If you’re asking for a postponement because the claimant has just been admitted to hospital for emergency surgery, you don’t need to tell the judge anything about the case or its procedural history. All she needs to know is that there’s a compelling reason why the claimant isn’t going to be able to attend.

Example 2

If you’re asking for disclosure of some specific document the respondent is refusing to show you, you’ll need to explain why it’s relevant. That means you’ll need to explain the dispute to which it’s relevant. But you still don’t need to explain the whole case – just the bit that you say can’t be resolved without this particular document.

Example 3

If you’re asking the tribunal to strike out the response because the respondent has failed to comply with a whole series of previous orders from the tribunal, you’ll need to set out the procedural history in some detail, and attach copies of all the relevant orders, all your polite and understated but persistent letters chasing compliance with them, and all the respondent’s quarrelsome and/or feeble replies.

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Woodhouse School v Webster

The Court of Appeal has issued a sharp reminder of the limits of the Burns / Barke procedure.

The Burns / Barke processes (named from the cases of Burns v. Royal Mail Group plc and Barke v. SEETEC Business Technology Centre Ltd) is the system by which the Employment Appeal Tribunal may ask an Employment Tribunal questions to clarifying their reasoning.

The Court of Appeal makes two points.

Firstly, it is important for the EAT to focus its questions and clearly identify where the ET’s reasoning may be inadequate. It is not appropriate to ask a general question or to ask the ET to supplement its decision if it has already adequately explained its reasoning.

Secondly, the ET must be careful to limit itself to answering the questions asked by the EAT. It must be careful not to act as an advocate for its own decision. In this case, the ET provided notes of evidence and commented directly on the notice of appeal. This, the Court of Appeal, concluded went beyond the scope of the Burns / Barke process.

What does this mean for those appearing in the EAT when are Burns / Barke procedure is followed?

At the point at which questions are being formulated it is appropriate to make submissions on the wording of the question. This should, as the Court of Appeal says, narrowly worded and focused on the ET’s reasoning.

If the ET does go beyond the scope of the Burns / Barke rule, you should make submissions that this additional material cannot be used to correct a flawed decision. The purpose of the Burns / Barke process is to allow the tribunal to clarify their existing decision; not to allow them to write a new one.

Woodhouse School v Webster

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Don’t complain

That is to say, don’t just complain.

Parties surprisingly often write long letters to the tribunal telling them all about how annoying and unreasonable the other side is being in their conduct of the case.

If you’re applying to have the other side struck out for unreasonable conduct, obviously you have to say why. But if you’re not asking the tribunal to do anything, there’s no point boring it with an account of their misdeeds.