Procedure – Adjournment

Iqbal v Metropolitan Police Service and another: Employment Appeal Tribunal (Judge Richardson, Dr K Mohanty and Miss S Wilson): 7 September 2012

The employee was employed by the employer police forces (the employer). During his employment he suffered from lower back pain and was unable to perform his normal duties. He also developed ‘ongoing psychological problems’ and was prescribed antidepressants. He brought claims in the employment tribunal (the tribunal) against the employer for discrimination. He elected to represent himself. The hearing was due to start on 30 August 2011. The tribunal elected to spend the first day pre-reading documents. Whilst before the tribunal, the employer indicated that it intended to make an application for its substantial costs should the employee lose.

The judge explained the issue of costs to the employee and the employee stated that he was depressed and suffered from disabilities and other difficulties. The tribunal arranged assistance for the employee. On 31 August, the employee applied for an adjournment on the grounds of ill-health. The employee did not have any medical evidence but did refer to an occupational health report in the hearing bundle. The tribunal dismissed the application on the basis that it was not in the interests of justice to adjourn the hearing. The employee then withdrew his claims. The employee appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

The principal question that fell to be determined was whether the tribunal had been wrong in law in refusing the application for an adjournment. The employee submitted that the tribunal should have granted a short adjournment for him to seek medical evidence from his GP. Consideration was given to Teinaz v London Borough of Wandsworth [2002] IRLR 721 (Teinaz). The appeal would be allowed.

It was established by Teinaz that if there was medical evidence that a party was not fit to participate in the hearing, an adjournment would generally have to be granted whatever the inconvenience to the other parties. Where there was no direct evidence, the tribunal would have a difficult decision to make as to whether it was right to allow a short adjournment for medical evidence to be obtained. If there was a significant history of depression or stress requiring treatment, it would often be appropriate to apply the guidance given in Teinaz by adjourning the case to enable the employee to make an urgent appointment to see the practice that was treating him.

The tribunal was entitled to ask the employee to take with him a short letter drafted by the tribunal explaining the assistance that the tribunal was able to give the employee as a litigant in person and explaining what assistance and opinion was required from the medical practitioner (see [18], [20] of the judgment).

In the instant case, it was a striking feature of the tribunal’s judgment that it had not referred to the evidence of the occupational health report confirming that the employee had been suffering from depression and had ongoing psychological problems. Further, it was impossible to see how the tribunal had evaluated what the employee had said in applying for the adjournment. Furthermore, the tribunal had made no reference to the possibility of a short adjournment for obtaining medical opinion of some kind. That was a key feature of the Teinaz guidance and the tribunal had been required to consider the possibility of a short adjournment.

On the facts, if the tribunal had fully taken into account the employee’s medical circumstances, it had been bound to conclude that a short adjournment had been required in the interests of fairness. It had been an error of law and unfair to proceed with the hearing without doing so (see [21], [22] of the judgment). The matter would be remitted for consideration by a freshly constituted tribunal (see [26] of the judgment). Teinaz v Wandsworth London Borough Council [2002] IRLR 721 applied; Andreou v Lord Chancellor's Department [2002] IRLR 728 considered.

Laura Prince (instructed by the Bar Pro Bono Unit) for the employee; Robin White (instructed by Weightmans LLP) for the employer.