Employment specialists are divided on the recent granting of public access to detailed tribunal data, reports Stephen Overell
It has been one of those legal rulings that has split employment specialists down the middle – one side sucking air through their teeth and wincing en masse at the implications; the other giving an airy wave of the hand and predicting business as usual.
On the face of it, whistleblowers' charity Public Concern at Work's victory against the Government in the High Court last month simply means more information from employment tribunals. Finding for the charity, Mr Justice Jackson said tribunals are not complying with the regulations of the Employment Tribunals Act 1996 by providing only the names of applicants and respondents in tribunal cases. Instead, he said, the public has a right to know the details of the claims, suggesting a right of access to the ET1 form - the form on which applicants to tribunals lay out their grievances.
For charities and research bodies, this modest little amendment would be useful. They can research details of interesting cases and monitor the operation of complicated legislation. Guy Dehn, director of PCAW, argues that the ruling would mean putting tribunals on the same legal footing as criminal courts as regards public access to information. "If people have disputes resolved at public expense, it is right that the public should have access to them. It is really about open justice. No valid interest is going to be prejudiced by more information," he said.
But the Government disagrees, citing, rather darkly, "technical reasons" which a Department of Trade and Industry spokesman declined to explain. It has lodged an appeal.
At present, the public already has a right to know the decisions of tribunals. Through the central register, held in Bury St Edmonds, people can find out who won and get copies of the judgements for a small fee - £10 and £5 for every additional copy, posted on receipt of cheque.
What they cannot find out is information about the claims. Tribunals list only the name of the applicant and the name of the defendant, not the nature of the claim. Since some 75 per cent of claims never actually get as far as the steps of a tribunal owing to settlements or changes of heart, there is quite a difference.
So, another little victory for freedom of information? Not according to some legal s