Listing of tribunal hearings is a perennial problem for all concerned, particularly if many witnesses are required.
University Of East Anglia v Amaikwu was an appeal against the refusal of an application for an adjournment of a hearing of an unfair dismissal and discrimination claim by the respondent to the claim. The application was made when the tribunal relisted the hearing after the original date had been cancelled at the last moment because no judge was available to hear the case (an all too frequent occurrence, anecdotal evidence suggests).
A new date was sent out without first asking the parties whether there were any periods when they or their witnesses could not attend. The date given was when one of the employer’s witnesses had already booked to travel to Albania for a family wedding. The notification sent by Employment Judge Pritchard-Witts was peremptory and unequivocal:
The hearing must take priority over a family wedding. The Claimant’s objections are well founded and this case is becoming decidedly stale. Postponement refused.
Some might take the view that a simple assertion, without more, that an employment tribunal hearing "must" take priority over a family wedding is a bold call.
In any event and allowing the appeal, and the adjournment, the Employment Appeal Tribunal rejected the claimant’s arguments that the hearing should go ahead, in particular the suggestion that the respondent could always apply for a witness order. While they could apply – they would not necessarily get one. With regard to the Employment Tribunal’s view that the case was becoming stale, the Employment Appeal Tribunal remarked that one of the reasons for its staleness was the lack of a judge at the time the case was originally due to be heard. A crucial factor was that no steps had been taken to establish the availability of the parties and the witnesses; this is an important step which tribunals should take when relisting cases – particularly, you would think, where a postponement arises from the tribunal’s own administrative difficulties.
Ironically the Employment Appeal Tribunal proceeded in the absence of the tribunal claimant, Miss Amaikwu. She had requested an adjournment of the appeal hearing which was refused!