Mr Khan, a Muslim, lost his claims for unfair dismissal and equal pay in the Reading employment tribunal September 2008 and appealed on the basis that he had not had a fair trial. He maintained that the tribunal should have granted his request made on the third day of the hearing for an adjournment to allow him to observe Ramadan and was wrong to dismiss the case in his absence when he nonetheless left the hearing. He contended that the tribunal made an error of law by depriving him of his right to a fair trial, contrary to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
He was dismissed from his employment when it was discovered that he had been accessing pornographic and other inappropriate internet sites at work using his work laptop. Claims of discrimination on the grounds of age and religion had been struck out because he failed to provide information required by the tribunal. The tribunal hearing which was scheduled for 14 April 2008 was postponed on medical grounds but there was no evidence of diagnosis or medical treatment. He was also refused a request for adjournment on the basis that he was not ready. However, the tribunal granted Mr Khan’s request for “specific break times each day for the purposes of prayer”. The hearing was rescheduled to commence on 1 September and notice was sent to the parties on 29 May. The hearing duly commenced on 1 September but midway through Mr Khan again requested an adjournment on the basis that he wanted to enjoy a “period of mental and spiritual purity during Ramadan” which would be inconsistent with a case involving the consideration of sexually explicit images. The tribunal rejected the application on the grounds that:
- Mr Khan had known for at least a year to within a day or so when Ramadan was likely to commence;
- he had not objected in advance to the scheduled hearing dates;
- the tribunal was confident that it could manage the hearing so that evidence relating to the pornography would not be dwelt on in a “disproportionate or prurient” manner; and
- Mr Khan’s claims under Articles 6 (right to a fair trial) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the ECHR were human rights factors to be weighed in consideration when exercising discretion rather than reasons in themselves for granting the request.
In rejecting Mr Khan’s appeal in what was described as a sad case taking into account Mr Khan’s undoubted dedication to his work as well as professional and technical competence, the Employment Appeal Tribunal noted that the tribunal had given the request for adjournment “most anxious consideration”. However, refusal of the request for adjournment was a proper exercise of the tribunal’s discretion. Given that Mr Khan had then left the hearing, the tribunal was entitled to proceed and to determine tha matter in Mr Khan’s absence, taking into account in particular that it was clear that careful consideration was given to a 122 page witness statement made by Mr Khan in order to establish his version of events.