News and Events

Tribunal Jurisdiction

  • Posted

Should a tribunal have distinguished between international jurisdiction and territorial jurisdiction when deciding if it could hear claims for unfair dismissal and discrimination, brought by an employee who worked and lived overseas?

Yes, held the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Smith v Stena Drilling. 

The British Claimant worked for the Respondent on its vessels used to support offshore drilling. The Respondent was a Singapore-registered company. Another company in the Respondent’s group was UK-based and dealt with the Claimant’s payroll and HR issues. The Claimant was not domiciled in the UK at the point of his dismissal. He had done work in British waters for the Respondent only once in 10 years. He claimed unfair dismissal and discrimination.

The tribunal held that it had international jurisdiction and territorial jurisdiction over the Claimant’s unfair dismissal and discrimination claims.

The EAT held that the tribunal had erred. They had confused international and territorial jurisdiction. The tribunal should have looked at these concepts separately. International jurisdiction is used to work-out where claims relating to a contract of employment can be brought. If international jurisdiction is established then territorial jurisdiction looks at whether the relevant statutes have sufficient international reach to apply to a claimant based overseas.

International jurisdiction can now only be established in the UK through sections 15C and 15D Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982. The tribunal had looked beyond these. They should not have done so. The issue of international jurisdiction was remitted.

The EAT then looked at the tribunal's approach to territorial jurisdiction. The EAT held the tribunal was right about the Claimant’s unfair dismissal claim. They had correctly applied the principles from Lawson v Serco. Subject to the error made in relation to international jurisdiction, territorial jurisdiction had been established.

The tribunal had wrongly concluded that it had territorial jurisdiction to hear the Claimant’s discrimination claim. This was governed by Regulation 3 Equality Act 2010 (Work on Ships and Hovercrafts) Regulations 2011 which required that the Claimant worked wholly or partly in Great Britain. It was clear, on the facts, that he did not.

The court remitted the issue of international jurisdiction and, if that were established, territorial jurisdiction for the Claimant's discrimination claim.