Lehman Brothers Limited v Smith,
EAT, 29 September 2005,
EAT website, 7 November 2005
Smith, a trader, was summarily dismissed. He brought a number of tribunal complaints within the three-month time limit, alleging that he had not received his 2004 bonus and that his 2003 bonus had been too low. A short time later, Smith asked to amend his tribunal complaint to say that the 2003 bonus had also failed to reflect his performance. The tribunal chairman allowed the amendment on the basis that it clarified Smith’s existing claim (rather than constituted a new claim) and that he would suffer the greater hardship if it were refused.
Decision on appeal
The company unsuccessfully appealed, claiming that who suffered the greater hardship was irrelevant. The important issue, it argued, was that time limits should be applied strictly and Smith was outside the three-month time limit when he chose to raise this issue. It was by then established that the amendment did in fact constitute an entirely new claim on his part, but the EAT agreed he should be able to pursue it.
In terms of time limits, the EAT ruled that making an amendment application out of time, seeking to add a new claim (as opposed to a minor amendment), is an important factor but not the only one. A tribunal should also consider the balance of hardship and justice between the parties before making a decision.
Here, the three-month time limit for bringing the claims had not expired when the original claim form was presented. Any hardship to
the company by allowing the amendment was therefore much less than a refusal would be to Smith.
When the 2004 tribunal rules came in to force, time limits were expected to be applied strictly. In a number of recent cases, however, the overriding objective of the tribunal to deal with all cases “justly” has meant that some of the bite has been taken out of the new rules.