The white heat of technology

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.

6 Replies to “The white heat of technology”

  1. This is an outstanding post, definitely gets my vote for best 1st April contribution to the blogosphere 2011. Respect!

    PS: Your blog and book have been invaluable to me: I’m currently taking an unfair dismissal case through tribunal against my former employer. One question that arises from the post above: as a litigant-in-person, am I by definition a member of the Guild of Vexatious Litigants? That would help clarify a number of the Respondent’s solicitor’s & barrister’s comments in relation to myself. As a member of the Guild, what am I entitled to? I should at least get a certificate.

    1. Thank you! But sorry, no. Guild membership is hard-won, and requires a long and distinguished career of claims, appeals, bias allegations, satellite litigation, complaints to professional bodies & ombudsmen etc. etc.

      Glad the book’s been a help though.

  2. Hilarious! But surely you should point out to the Regional Judge that CMDs are meant to be heard in private. Surely an internet chatroom would be better. Or the ETS should lend all litigants an iPhone 4 so everyone can use Facetime.

    Happy April Fool’s Day!

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