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Applications for Adjournment

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[Thanks to Naomi Cunningham of Outer Temple Chambers for preparing this case summary]

Is an employment tribunal entitled to refuse a Claimant's application for adjournment supported by unchallenged medical evidence?

Yes, says the Court of Appeal (Mummery LJ presiding) in Transport For London v O'Cathail

The Claimant's case was originally listed for hearing in October 2010. It was adjourned on grounds of the Claimant's medical unfitness, and re-listed for 21 to 28 February 2011. On 21 February, the Claimant sought a further adjournment, producing a letter from his GP stating that he was unfit to attend.

The employment tribunal refused to adjourn and heard and dismissed the claim. Its reasons for refusing the adjournment referred to the staleness of the proceedings; the previous adjournment at the Claimant's request; costs; the effect on other pending claims; proportionality; and the extent to which the claims could be determined on the basis of documentary evidence.

The EAT allowed the Claimant's appeal, citing Terluk v Berezovsky and holding that it should look for itself to see whether the effect of the decision had been to deny the Claimant a fair hearing.

The Court of Appeal disagreed. Terluk was decided under the CPR; appeal to the EAT was more narrowly defined. The EAT had wrongly substituted its decision on the employment tribunal's exercise of discretion. That exercise should not have been overturned in the absence of error of law or perversity.