News & Views

Employment Tribunal googles claimant’s disability

BY Katy Marshall
Employment law
BG Purple

Well actually they used Wikipedia – not that it makes a great deal of difference. 

In this case the Respondent appealed a refusal by the Employment Tribunal (ET) to step down from hearing the case after it decided to research an aspect of the evidence on Wikipedia which had not been given by either party, apparently to see if that might help the case of the Claimant. 

The Claimant had made a complaint that she had been discriminated against and unfairly dismissed. The ET heard evidence on this issue of disability and then, without prior reference to the parties, it began to conduct research on the Internet. Upon returning to the hearing, the Judge advised the parties of the research. The Respondent then asked the ET to step down as it had exceeded its role in investigating evidence for itself, which neither party had sought to put before it, and had assumed the truth of that which it had itself uncovered from the Internet. The Respondent also claimed that the judge was biased towards the Claimant. The ET refused to step down and the Respondent appealed.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) upheld the Respondent's appeal. The EAT noted that the tribunal rules, in its view, did not allow a Tribunal to make enquires on its own behalf into evidence which was never put forward by either party’. An employment tribunal may ask questions of the witnesses before it, but only to elicit evidence: ‘not the evidence which the Tribunal wishes to hear but the evidence which the witness wants to give, as best the Tribunal can understand it’.

The EAT also said that the ET had ‘descended impermissibly into the arena’ appearing to think it was free to conduct its own research into the facts surrounding what had happened.

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