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Litigants in person - how much should a Tribunal help them?

01 May 2012 #Employment

Often both parties are legally represented in employment tribunal claims. However, claimants may represent themselves. The tribunal will assist claimants where necessary in the course of the proceedings but how far should that assistance go?

This Court of Appeal had to consider this issue in the case of John Guest Engineering and Vaio.  Mr Vaio successfully won a claim of unfair dismissal and race discrimination against his ex employer following his redundancy. His ex employer appealed the tribunal’s finding that Mr Vaio had not been dismissed by reason of redundancy. The issue of whether there had been a genuine redundancy arose only during the course of evidence and to a limited extent. The ex employer argued the tribunal had raised a new point at the hearing entirely of its own volition when the Claimant had represented himself and argued that they did not have an adequate opportunity to address the point.

The EAT upheld the employer’s appeal on the basis of procedural unfairness. It held that the issue was an entirely new point taken at the tribunal’s own volition and the company had not been given a fair and reasonable opportunity to deal with it.

Mr Vaio then appealed to the Court of Appeal. Amongst other grounds, he submitted that tribunals should step in to assist litigants in person as their jurisdiction is "quasi-inquisitorial". His appeal has been allowed in the circumstances.  Although the Claimant had not made the point in his grievance, in his claim, nor in his further particulars or his written witness statement it was submitted that the new point had been put to the Respondent’s witness and the Respondent had the chance to make submissions on the issue.

The Court of Appeal allowed the Claimant’s appeal. The Claimant also appealed a time limit issue and the case will be remitted back to tribunal.

Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Employment matter please contact Clarkslegal's employment team by email at by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.
This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

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