“One answer would be that justice consists not only in reaching the 'right decision', but doing so within a reasonable time.”

This statement was made by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in the case of Begraj v Heer Manak Solicitors [UKEAT/0496/13/BA]. A case that had already lasted 30 days in the Birmingham employment tribunal was adjourned following the disclosure by the police of information about the respondent to the employment judge. The judge was now prejudiced and she ordered that a new employment tribunal hear the case all over again. The claimant appealed to the EAT which had to decide whether such a long delay would, in effect, kill the parties’ access to justice. It summed up the problem succinctly:

“It might be said that there is a tension... the longer that time is spent, the more likely it might be that a 'correct' decision may be made: but if it took so long to do it that the point of the litigation was defeated, time spent in seeking to achieve justice would in fact have the opposite effect.”

This tension is familiar to many users of the tribunal system who, despite the apparent availability of unless orders and strike outs, see parties being given every last opportunity to file late, amend their pleadings, etc. To answer the question, the EAT quoted Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights:

“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

The EAT then decided that of utmost importance was the fairness and impartiality of the hearing. Perhaps it overlooked the bit that read 'within a reasonable time'...

It’s not all bleak news for companies. If a tribunal defence is pursued proactively, with timelines being met and documents and witness statements being in user friendly format, when it comes before the independent and impartial tribunal the company will create a favourable impression. If the claimant has delayed, and missed time limits, should the company be successful it could apply for a costs award.