Public denied access to tribunal case details

Behind closed doors: details of employment tribunal claims

Just months before the Freedom of Information Act comes into force, the government has decided to put an end to the publication of tribunal applications on the Public Register.

As a result of its consultations in July, the government has decided that details of employment tribunal claims and responses should no longer be recorded on the Public Register, although judgments should still be available.

This will make it far more difficult for editors to find out what cases are being brought by readers on their patch.

The government decided that compromising the privacy of claimants – which left them open to unwelcome approaches from the likes of “ambulance chasers” and “blacklisters” – outweighed freedom of information.

Brian Whittle, editor at Cavendish Press news agency, said: “It is not clear where the press would stand with regard to the present dissemination of tribunal hearings notices. At the moment the information is scant enough – name of an applicant with no full address, coded details of category of claim, and name of employer.

“There is also a culture of noncooperation among tribunal staff.

This behind closed doors move should be resisted by right-minded editors everywhere.”

The Society of Editors put in a response to the government’s consultation document, advocating greater openness.

Society of Editors director Bob Satchwell said: “It could have been worse, but we did manage to stop it from restricting the flow of information.

“It is sad when we are about to get the Freedom of Information Act coming in, at the same time we are getting a restriction on information.

“This is part of the system of justice – one of the key planks is that it should be seen to be done and that it should be open. It is a cause of regret.

“On a practical level, it won’t stop reporting, but it will make it more difficult and increase potential for mistakes.”

The government is considering its decision and the contention by whistleblowers’ organisation Public Concern at Work that public interest disclosure cases should be treated exceptionally.

Public Concern at Work director Guy Dehn believes that open justice can still take place without publishing addresses, by giving more detailed information about the cases: “The problem of ‘ambulance chasing’ is the government’s own making. It decided four years ago, without consultation, to put people’s private addresses on the register. If it wasn’t so embarrassed by its own mistake, it would simply remove the addresses from the register and return to the method pre-2000 when the principles of open justice were worthy.”

By Sarah Lagan

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