Thanks to Rad Kohanzad of Serjeants’ Inn Chambers for preparing this case summary
Was it wrong for an employment tribunal to proceed with a hearing where an interpreter had previously been requested but did not attend?
No, held the EAT in Hak v St Christopher's Fellowship.
The Claimant, who had some command of English, wanted to be assisted by an interpreter and requested one in advance of a hearing, but none were available. At the outset of the hearing, the Employment Judge asked the Claimant whether he wanted to proceed, to which he replied that he did. The Claimant appealed when his claim was struck out.
While reluctant to give any prescriptive guidance, the EAT said that in cases such as this, giving a choice of proceeding, or alternatively waiting until an interpreter may be found if one can be, provides a reasonable opportunity for litigants to have an interpreter if they wish. A judge must be satisfied that the litigant's understanding of that issue is sufficient for the choice to be real.
However, there may be circumstances where the litigant's command of English is so poor that they simply cannot give the account which they would wish to give. In such a case, it may be insufficient to offer the litigant the choice of whether to proceed on that day, or to wait until a later date when an interpreter might be found.