The civil and criminal courts have been concerned recently with whether it is permissible for journalists to ‘tweet’ direct from court. But the Employment Tribunal Service is ahead of the game.
Rule 15 provides:
(1) A hearing may be conducted (in whole or in part) by use of electronic communications provided that the Employment Judge or tribunal conducting the hearing considers it just and equitable to do so.
Relying on this, employment judges in some regions have apparently started to conduct case management discussions, and even in some cases substantive hearings, by Twitter. A top Employment Judge is quoted as saying:
This is a major development in open and transparent justice. Some hearing centres (Shrewsbury, for example) are literally miles from anywhere, and very hard to get to. Frankly, the extent to which it is meaningful to describe their hearings as ‘public’ is limited even on a day when the trains are running properly. A hearing by Twitter, in contrast, can be attended by anyone, from anywhere in the world.
Objections have been raised in some quarters that Twitter hearings do not properly comply with the requirements in rule 15(2) and (3) that employment judges and the public should be able to ‘see and hear all parties’ where live evidence is given. The same judge’s response is robust:
The public can see the parties’ Twitter profiles. It is superstitious in the modern age – not to mention plainly discriminatory against the ontologically compromised – to privilege an individual’s physical body over their online presence. If demeanour is important, we can use avatars.
A senior civil servant, Sir Hawthorne Pearby, speaking for the Ministry of Justice said:
This is an exemplary example of the synergistic direction of travel currently pursued by the Tribunal Service. Going forward, we will be conducting an ongoing consultation with key stakeholders from the social partner organisations, as well as representatives from the Guild of Vexatious Litigants, before progressing to finalisation of a strategic direction for international roll-out.
We hope shortly be in a position to announce plans to integrate this developmental strand with the government’s complementary aspirations for the tribunal service by offering ACAS mediation over Twitter.