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Adjournments on Medical Grounds

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  Thanks to Neil Addison of New Bailey Chambers for preparing this case summary

Is a tribunal justified in striking out a case where a Claimant is ill due to stress allegedly caused by the employer's bullying.

Yes, says the Court of Appeal in Riley v CPS. In this case the Claimant, a former Crown Prosecutor, had brought various allegations of bullying against fellow employees and was ultimately dismissed for making false allegations. Ultimately she brought a total of 3 separate employment tribunal proceedings against the CPS alleging, amongst other things, disability discrimination.

In August 2010 a 4 week trial was was scheduled for May 2011 but only 7 days before the scheduled trial the Claimant informed the employment tribunal that she was too ill to attend the trial. Her illness did not however prevent her simultaneously issuing a 4th employment tribunal claim. Medical evidence was given to the Employment Judge that the doctors were unable to identify a date upon which the Claimant was likely to be ready to commence a trial in part because she was unlikely to recover from her depression until after her trial. It was as the Judge said a "chicken and egg" situation.

The Judge decided that in the circumstances in particular the increasing delay and the effect that would have on the memory of witnesses a fair trial was no longer possible and so the case had to be struck out. The EAT agreed as has the Court of Appeal.

The Court noted that Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights gave both parties a right to a fair trial within a reasonable time. It was wrong to expect tribunals to adjourn cases merely in the hope that a Claimant's medical condition will improve. If doctors could not give any realistic prognosis of sufficient improvement within a reasonable time and the case itself dealt with matters that were already in the distant past, striking out must be an option available to tribunals.

As an aside, 3 days before the Court of Appeal hearing the Claimant applied for that case to be adjourned on health grounds and also the fact that she wanted to change lawyers. The Court refused that adjournment also, the case had to be dealt with.