What to expect at an employment tribunal hearing What to expect at an employment tribunal hearing

What to expect at an employment tribunal hearing
30 Nov 2014

Attending the employment tribunal can be a rare event, even for some very experienced HR professionals. It can be a stressful time and the practical arrangements for the day are often overlooked as the focus is, naturally, on the legal issues. All the same, understanding (and helping the colleagues who will attend with you to understand) what to expect in terms of practicalities can make it easier to focus on the substance of the claim, and to deal with anything unexpected that might occur on the day

Arriving

The time and place of the hearing will be set out on the notice of hearing. If you have not been to the venue before, as a rough guide, aim to arrive about an hour before the time of the hearing. This allows time to find the venue, go through the security procedures, sign in and find your waiting room without rushing. If you will be represented by lawyers, check with them when they would like you to be there. If there are last-minute things you need to discuss, you can allow time for this before you go into the room where the hearing takes place

Checking in

Most tribunal buildings require you to check in with security and then sign in with tribunal staff. Often, several cases will be heard on the same day. Be ready to say the names of the parties in the claim, your name and the capacity in which you are attending (for example ‘witness’ or ‘respondent’). Waiting rooms

Once you have checked in, you can go to your waiting room. If nobody tells you where this is, ask. There are usually separate waiting rooms for claimants and respondents. These rooms contain some chairs and often a drinking water machine. It can get rather crowded at the beginning of the day and after lunch.

A clerk is likely to visit you in the waiting room. If you are a witness, the clerk may ask you whether you wish to swear on a holy book (and if so, which one) or make a solemn promise to tell the truth, known as ‘affirming’, before you give your evidence. If you need to go to the other party’s waiting room to discuss something, knock loudly before opening the door to look for them.

Starting the hearing

You may find that you will need to wait in the waiting room for some time, and beyond the time stated on the notice of hearing. Sometimes, however, you will start promptly. The clerk will come to your waiting room to tell you that the tribunal is ready to start and to guide you to the room in which the hearing will take place. Mobile phones should be switched off before going into the room. You should take everything, including your coat, with you into the tribunal room. It is better not to leave anything in the waiting room.

Layout of a tribunal room

Tribunal rooms vary in size. If a large number of witnesses or observers are expected, for example, a larger room would be allocated. Typically the rooms are no bigger than a classroom. At the back, there are seats arranged in rows. At the front is a raised bench behind which the judge and any panel members will sit. In between will be tables for the representatives. There will also be a separate witness table, to which each witness in turn will move to give evidence. Facing the front, the claimant attendees sit on the right and the respondent attendees on the left (there will usually be signs on the desks indicating which is for the claimant and which is for the respondent).

Check with your representative exactly where you should sit if you are unsure. If you do not have a representative and will be doing the speaking in your claim, sit at the appropriate table. If unsure, ask the clerk. There is usually a clock on the wall and drinking water on the tables.

Accessibility and language

If you have any special access requirements and are concerned about whether these will be met, you may wish to telephone the tribunal in advance. If you find that you have any difficulty in hearing what is being said during proceedings, say so, politely, as soon as possible. If you would like your hearing to be conducted in Welsh, let the tribunal know in advance.

Timing

The length of the hearing can vary from around one hour to several weeks or more. It will be made clear on the notice of hearing. If the hearing is listed to last all day, it will normally start around 10am, break for an hour for lunch around 1pm and finish between 4pm and 5pm. Typically there will be a short comfort break during the morning and again during the afternoon. Exact timings will depend upon where the natural breaks in the proceedings fall. During breaks you can retire to the waiting room where you started the day.

Expect the unexpected. There may be delays in starting your hearing or it may even not be possible to start your hearing until another day. If your hearing goes ahead, you may not get a decision on the last day. It might be sent to you in writing afterwards.

Dress

Clients often ask what to wear to a hearing. The tribunal is a formal environment. The tribunal panel and the representatives are likely to be wearing business dress - suits or jackets with trousers, dresses or skirts. Suits are certainly not essential, but you should aim to dress respectfully. Flip flops, shorts or t-shirts with slogans are not ideal. If you will be giving evidence and want to give a professional and business-like impression, dress accordingly. Most importantly, wear something comfortable, it can be a long and tiring day. Tribunal rooms can be very hot or sometimes a bit chilly, regardless of the weather outside. If you use reading spectacles, remember to bring them.

Facilities

You will usually have to leave the tribunal building to buy a sandwich or to make any photocopies you may need to make. It is a good idea to familiarise yourself with the location of the nearest options for this.

Conduct

If you are in the tribunal room when the judge or tribunal panel enters or leaves, it is expected that you stand for this. Otherwise it is usual to remain seated throughout the hearing. Tribunal panel members are addressed correctly as ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’. It is helpful to your case for you to listen carefully and to take a note (or ensure that someone else is doing this reliably for you) when someone else is speaking. Heckling, interrupting or tutting if you disagree with something can be tempting, but is generally frowned upon. If something happens that you feel needs to be addressed, pass a short note discreetly to your representative.

Giving evidence

If you are a witness, your lawyer or representative will be able to tell you what to expect when you give your evidence. Coaching on how to answer particular questions is not permitted. Ensure that you are familiar with your witness statement and any documents referred to in it, keep calm, and tell the truth.

Journalists and observers

Most tribunal claims are heard in public and anyone can attend, so you may see unfamiliar faces in the room. They may be journalists, curious law students or people getting some experience before attending for their own claims. In high profile cases, journalists are not unusual. Be sensible about what you say and who may be listening as you move around the tribunal building. Most cases, however, will not have any press interest at all.

Finally, the flipside of your hearing being a public forum is that other hearings are public too. You can sit in on another hearing to get an idea of what to expect and this is often a very helpful familiarisation exercise.

By Anne-Marie Balfour, solicitor,
Charles Russell Speechlys

Attending the employment tribunal can be a rare event, even for some very experienced HR professionals. It can be a stressful time and the practical arrangements for the day are often overlooked as the focus is, naturally, on the legal issues. All the same, understanding (and helping the colleagues who will attend with you to understand) what to expect in terms of practicalities can make it easier to focus on the substance of the claim, and to deal with anything unexpected that might occur on the day

Arriving

The time and place of the hearing will be set out on the notice of hearing. If you have not been to the venue before, as a rough guide, aim to arrive about an hour before the time of the hearing. This allows time to find the venue, go through the security procedures, sign in and find your waiting room without rushing. If you will be represented by lawyers, check with them when they would like you to be there. If there are last-minute things you need to discuss, you can allow time for this before you go into the room where the hearing takes place

Checking in

Most tribunal buildings require you to check in with security and then sign in with tribunal staff. Often, several cases will be heard on the same day. Be ready to say the names of the parties in the claim, your name and the capacity in which you are attending (for example ‘witness’ or ‘respondent’). Waiting rooms

Once you have checked in, you can go to your waiting room. If nobody tells you where this is, ask. There are usually separate waiting rooms for claimants and respondents. These rooms contain some chairs and often a drinking water machine. It can get rather crowded at the beginning of the day and after lunch.

A clerk is likely to visit you in the waiting room. If you are a witness, the clerk may ask you whether you wish to swear on a holy book (and if so, which one) or make a solemn promise to tell the truth, known as ‘affirming’, before you give your evidence. If you need to go to the other party’s waiting room to discuss something, knock loudly before opening the door to look for them.

Starting the hearing

You may find that you will need to wait in the waiting room for some time, and beyond the time stated on the notice of hearing. Sometimes, however, you will start promptly. The clerk will come to your waiting room to tell you that the tribunal is ready to start and to guide you to the room in which the hearing will take place. Mobile phones should be switched off before going into the room. You should take everything, including your coat, with you into the tribunal room. It is better not to leave anything in the waiting room.

Layout of a tribunal room

Tribunal rooms vary in size. If a large number of witnesses or observers are expected, for example, a larger room would be allocated. Typically the rooms are no bigger than a classroom. At the back, there are seats arranged in rows. At the front is a raised bench behind which the judge and any panel members will sit. In between will be tables for the representatives. There will also be a separate witness table, to which each witness in turn will move to give evidence. Facing the front, the claimant attendees sit on the right and the respondent attendees on the left (there will usually be signs on the desks indicating which is for the claimant and which is for the respondent).

Check with your representative exactly where you should sit if you are unsure. If you do not have a representative and will be doing the speaking in your claim, sit at the appropriate table. If unsure, ask the clerk. There is usually a clock on the wall and drinking water on the tables.

Accessibility and language

If you have any special access requirements and are concerned about whether these will be met, you may wish to telephone the tribunal in advance. If you find that you have any difficulty in hearing what is being said during proceedings, say so, politely, as soon as possible. If you would like your hearing to be conducted in Welsh, let the tribunal know in advance.

Timing

The length of the hearing can vary from around one hour to several weeks or more. It will be made clear on the notice of hearing. If the hearing is listed to last all day, it will normally start around 10am, break for an hour for lunch around 1pm and finish between 4pm and 5pm. Typically there will be a short comfort break during the morning and again during the afternoon. Exact timings will depend upon where the natural breaks in the proceedings fall. During breaks you can retire to the waiting room where you started the day.

Expect the unexpected. There may be delays in starting your hearing or it may even not be possible to start your hearing until another day. If your hearing goes ahead, you may not get a decision on the last day. It might be sent to you in writing afterwards.

Dress

Clients often ask what to wear to a hearing. The tribunal is a formal environment. The tribunal panel and the representatives are likely to be wearing business dress - suits or jackets with trousers, dresses or skirts. Suits are certainly not essential, but you should aim to dress respectfully. Flip flops, shorts or t-shirts with slogans are not ideal. If you will be giving evidence and want to give a professional and business-like impression, dress accordingly. Most importantly, wear something comfortable, it can be a long and tiring day. Tribunal rooms can be very hot or sometimes a bit chilly, regardless of the weather outside. If you use reading spectacles, remember to bring them.

Facilities

You will usually have to leave the tribunal building to buy a sandwich or to make any photocopies you may need to make. It is a good idea to familiarise yourself with the location of the nearest options for this.

Conduct

If you are in the tribunal room when the judge or tribunal panel enters or leaves, it is expected that you stand for this. Otherwise it is usual to remain seated throughout the hearing. Tribunal panel members are addressed correctly as ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’. It is helpful to your case for you to listen carefully and to take a note (or ensure that someone else is doing this reliably for you) when someone else is speaking. Heckling, interrupting or tutting if you disagree with something can be tempting, but is generally frowned upon. If something happens that you feel needs to be addressed, pass a short note discreetly to your representative.

Giving evidence

If you are a witness, your lawyer or representative will be able to tell you what to expect when you give your evidence. Coaching on how to answer particular questions is not permitted. Ensure that you are familiar with your witness statement and any documents referred to in it, keep calm, and tell the truth.

Journalists and observers

Most tribunal claims are heard in public and anyone can attend, so you may see unfamiliar faces in the room. They may be journalists, curious law students or people getting some experience before attending for their own claims. In high profile cases, journalists are not unusual. Be sensible about what you say and who may be listening as you move around the tribunal building. Most cases, however, will not have any press interest at all.

Finally, the flipside of your hearing being a public forum is that other hearings are public too. You can sit in on another hearing to get an idea of what to expect and this is often a very helpful familiarisation exercise.

By Anne-Marie Balfour, solicitor,
Charles Russell Speechlys