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Employment Appeal Tribunal adapts to combat impacts of Coronavirus

View profile for Leanne Day
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The legal system has had to quickly adapt to the challenges faced as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, and one example of this is the Employment Appeal Tribunal's (EAT) need to take steps to modernise the way their hearings take place.  The Practice Direction relating to EAT procedures has therefore been amended, with paragraph 19 relating to hearings being revoked and replaced.

What did the old paragraph 19 say?

The repealed paragraph 19 of the Practice Direction consisted of three sections relating to Judges and Lay Members, Video and Telephone Hearings and the Recording of Hearings.  In particular, it stated that hearings shall only take place 'exceptionally' by telephone where the Appellant or Respondent makes an application due to a relevant disability and the hearing is short.  This application would not necessarily be approved and would have to be determined by the Judge or Registrar.  It would need to be made well in advance of the hearing so that arrangements and facilities could be put in place if the request was accepted.  Paragraph 19.2 stated that video conferencing facilities were not available at the EAT premises and that, if required, the hearing would have to take place at an alternate location.

Paragraph 19.3 specified that audio and video recordings were not permitted except with permission of the Judge if a good reason was shown.

What has changed?

The amended paragraph 19 has now doubled and consists of six sections dealing with hearings in person, remote hearings and the recording of remote hearings.

The starting position remains that all hearings will take place in person at a designated hearing venue unless otherwise directed.  However, the EAT are now much more flexible in terms of remote hearings and if at any time the Judge of Registrar believes this in the interests of justice, then a remote hearing may take place.  Paragraph 19.3 now permits that either one or more participants may attend remotely (a partially remote hearing) or all participants may attend remotely (a wholly remote hearing). 

Interestingly, this section now states that the hearing may take place by telephone, internet, video link or other electric/remote connection.  The options have thus greatly increased in a very short space of time, having gone from having no accessibility to a video hearing and requiring a lengthy notice period to set up for a remote hearing to now having several options available depending on requirements.

It remains the case that hearings are not to be audio or video recorded or photographed by participants unless a written application is made and express permission is granted.  The EAT may still be record hearings, whether partially remote or wholly remote.

The above amendments show how quickly the EAT has had to adjust to the lockdown of the country to allow the legal system to continue to function.  With technology ever evolving and pressure to become more environmentally friendly growing, holding more hearings remotely in the future could bring huge benefits to include saved time and costs in travelling and less need for large paper Bundles.  Further work needs to be done but for now, what would have been months or years of progress has taken place in a few short months and enabled access to justice during these peculiar times.