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Tribunal Procedure: Parties with Disabilities

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Must an employment tribunal conduct a 'ground rules'-style hearing of its own volition in the case of a vulnerable litigant-in-person?

Usually not, held the Court of Appeal in Anderson v Turning Point Eespro.

The Claimant, who had suffered a significant breakdown in her mental health, was unrepresented at a remedy hearing which required consideration of complex psychiatric evidence from opposing experts. The tribunal, mindful of her disability and the complexity of the issues, adjourned the hearing and made a referral on her behalf to the Bar Pro Bono Unit so that she could get a barrister. She secured representation in this way, and no further adjustments were made to accommodate her disability at the next hearing.

On appeal, it was argued that the tribunal was in breach of its duty to make reasonable adjustments because it had not conducted a hearing in which directions were given for special measures to accommodate her vulnerability.

The Court of Appeal held that it is not necessary to have a specific 'ground rules hearing' in every case where there is a disabled or vulnerable witness. What fairness requires depends on the circumstances of the particular case. Fairness did not require the tribunal to do more than it did in this case. The Court drew attention to its guidance on how tribunals should deal with parties suffering from mental-ill health in J v K, which was handed down after this appeal was heard.

Thanks to Assunta Del Priore of Nine St John Street Chambers for preparing this case summary.