Something must be seriously wrong when a senior judge is advising people to keep as far away from the law as possible.
The comments were made by Lord Justice Mummery in a Court of Appeal decision. He was considering whether to allow an appeal by a restaurant owner who had been ordered to pay £14,777 in compensation to a former employee for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.
The restaurant owner, David Piper, had attempted to lodge his notice of appeal with the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in person. But the office was closed, and so his notice was not lodged within the six-week deadline.
Lord Justice Mummery ruled that the appeal should not be allowed on the basis that the six-week time limit was generous and, in any event, Piper’s claim had no reasonable prospect of success. But what really caught my eye were the comments he made in relation to the state of the legal system.
. Key points
The judge said he was “sympathetic to all litigants who get caught up in our legal system”, and went on to say that people are “best off having nothing to do with it”.
These are hardly words of encouragement to HR professionals who have a multitude of employment law rules and regulations to adhere to. But Lord Justice Mummery’s comments do highlight a serious issue: is the law now so convoluted that it is beyond the comprehension of those required to comply with it?
In its ‘Manifesto 2010’, the Law Society calls for legislation to be more fully scrutinised before it is passed, to prevent it being fragmented and unclear. This is surely a sensible approach. Greater review and debate surrounding legislative developments at the time when they are initially proposed will help to prevent unnecessary or overly complicated laws being passed, or laws being passed and then repealed a few years later (Exhibit A: the Statutory Dispute Resolution Procedures).
But whatever your views on the state of the legal system, there is no getting away from the fact that all legislation has to be complied with. Piper’s experience demonstrates just how important it is to be aware of time limits and procedures when dealing with tribunal claims.
This can often work in an employer’s favour – employees must generally file a claim within three months of the date on which their cause of action arose. But employers must respond to a claim within 28 days of receiving notice of it from the tribunal.
These time limits are generally strict and even a few minutes after the deadline is usually too late. Any dates given throughout the proceedings must also be complied with, and persistent failure to do this may lead to a claim being struck out or a default judgment against the respondent. In extreme cases, it could also result in a costs award against the party at fault.
Procedural rules are rarely flexible, and courts and tribunals will interpret them strictly. Notwithstanding the fact that HR professionals are required to deal with a huge volume of employment legislation, procedural requirements should never be overlooked. Unfortunately, hours of training can be spent getting to grips with the latest legislative development, and it can be implemented flawlessly, but this will be inconsequential if, for example, the 28-day deadline to respond to a claim is missed.
by Leon Deakin, associate, Thomas Eggar
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