Ill-timed postponement request
Ahari v University of Glasgow HCI (Scotland) Ltd, EAT website 3 October 2005
Ahari worked at the hospital and was seconded to HCI, a company engaged in running hospital facilities. Following alleged harassment on the grounds of race, Ahari brought a claim of race discrimination.
His claim progressed slowly, partly due to his postponement requests. Finally, the day before the hearing, he sent a fax requesting the hearing be postponed due to his ill health. The tribunal responded with a fax, requesting a GP’s certificate. When he failed to contact them or attend, the tribunal refused his application for a postponement and dismissed his claim.
Ahari requested a review, saying his illness had prevented him attending, but that he had contacted his GP for written confirmation of his illness at the first available opportunity, which was four days later. The GP’s letter confirmed that his condition had been debilitating prior to the hearing date, but that he quickly recovered.
The tribunal considered the five relevant grounds under the 2004 tribunal rules. In its view, administrative error, notification to the parties, absence of a party or introduction of new evidence were not grounds for review. As for the fifth – whether a review was required in the ‘interests of justice’ – the tribunal considered Ahari’s previous requests for postponements, the medical evidence and the cost and inconvenience caused to the employer. His request failed and he appealed.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) dismissed the appeal. While conceding the decision was harsh, it held that the length of time the proceedings had taken, the serious allegations hanging over the parties and the case history were highly relevant.
The extension of tribunal powers, in terms of cost penalties and the ability to strike out cases, have been slow to have an impact. But recent decisions suggest tribunals are finally getting tough. If parties want to postpone a hearing, they should support their application with strong evidence, or risk facing severe costs or having their case struck out.