CHRIS Project v Lara Hutt, EAT 6 April 2006
Following her dismissal for gross misconduct, Mrs Hutt brought an unfair dismissal claim. At the start of the hearing, the chairman indicated that CHRIS Project might have difficulty maintaining that Hutt had been fairly dismissed due to her conduct because, from the documents submitted, it appeared there was no indication that conduct had been the reason for dismissal. CHRIS Project subsequently conceded Hutt had been unfairly dismissed, and she was awarded nearly £5,000. But CHRIS Project appealed, arguing that its concession had only been given as it appeared to its representative that the tribunal had pre-judged the question of whether or not there was a defence to the claim. Accordingly, the tribunal was biased.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) commented that CHRIS Project’s (non-legal) representative had appeared anxious and not confident, and it was easy to envisage he would have been vulnerable to pressure. The EAT was satisfied that the chairman’s comments indicated prior consideration of the documents and that he had not said he was expressing only a preliminary view. The EAT was satisfied there was a possibility that the tribunal had a closed mind and that there was no merit in CHRIS Project’s defence. Therefore, an objective observer would have considered it biased. The case was remitted to another tribunal.
There will be times when a tribunal can look properly at difficulties that have become apparent from the evidence, but there will be few occasions when this can be done properly prior to the hearing evidence.