If you are making an employment claim for discrimination or unfair dismissal your case will be heard at an Employment Tribunal rather than in Court. On the other hand, civil cases such as property disputes, are heard in Court. While many claims are settled before they reach this stage, if you do have to go to Court or a Tribunal, it’s useful to know what to expect.
So, what’s the difference between Court and a Tribunal?
Taking your case to a Tribunal:
Tribunal hearings are slightly less formal than Court proceedings. They are set up for ordinary employees to be able to appear on their own as many people do not have a legal representative.
An Employment Tribunal panel is usually made up of three members: an employment judge, someone representing employer’s organisations and someone representing employee’s organisations.
At the hearing, you (the claimant) will have the opportunity to read out your witness statement. The respondent (i.e. your employer) will have the opportunity to question you and to put their case forward. At the end of the hearing, the tribunal panel will make their decision. This usually happens on the same day.
There is no fee to take your claim to a Tribunal (fees were abolished in 2017). If you lose your case, in certain circumstances there is a chance you may have to pay your employer’s costs. For example, if you have not followed the proper process of making a claim or if the Tribunal finds that you have lied or been misleading you may have to pay.
Taking your case to Court:
Civil cases in Court are heard by a judge, though most cases are settled at mediation. As with a Tribunal, the claimant and defendant (or their legal representatives) both have the opportunity to explain their case. They produce any documentary evidence and can also call witnesses. The judge normally makes a decision on the outcome (called a judgement) at the end of the hearing, though very complex cases may take longer.
Before a case goes to court, the judge may hold a Case Management Conference with the lawyers representing each side. This can be in person or by telephone. The aim is to identify the issues involved so that all parties are clear about what will happen in Court.
There is a fee to issue a claim at Court – your lawyer will explain this to you. At the end of the hearing, the Court decides who should pay costs and how much they should be. The general rule is that the unsuccessful party will be ordered to pay the costs of the successful party. However, the Court will also take into consideration the conduct of all parties when making their decision.
We can help you through the process of going to Court or attending a Tribunal. We understand that it can be intimidating so we will make sure you are fully prepared to put forward your case.
If you have any questions about bringing a claim against your employer or about a civil dispute, please contact us on 0114 220 1795 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information here on bringing a claim against your employer (including downloadable factsheet).
By Laura Thorpe, Civil Litigation Executive