Why ‘trial by media’ is a bad way to decide workplace disputesJuly 03, 2017
Head of Employment Law Julia Beasley advises parties to ongoing Employment Tribunal proceedings to make no comment – at least until the outcome of the case.
Open justice is a fundamental principle for courts and tribunals. Justice must be seen to be done. Journalists bear witness to the fact it is (or isn’t) being done. So - unless there are reporting restrictions - the press are free to report on cases in the Employment Tribunals.
However, it can be fatal to speak to journalists while a case is progressing. This was made clear in the recent case of Chidzoy v BBC.
Ms Chidzoy was a BBC reporter who claimed that she had been subjected to a campaign of harassment and abuse after she had exposed links between her boss and a charity funded by the Chinese government.
She was near the end of giving her evidence in the Employment Tribunal when there was an adjournment. Still under oath, she talked about her case during the break with a journalist who she knew. This was in spite of a warning that the Tribunal had given that she should not discuss the case with anyone until her evidence was complete.
The Tribunal took this extremely seriously, and struck out her case. It agreed with the BBC that her actions were unreasonable and had made a fair trial impossible.
The case clearly illustrates that all parties to proceedings in the Employment Tribunal should be cautious. There can be dire consequences if witnesses discuss details of the case with an outside party during breaks between cross-examinations - the claim (or the defence) can be struck out.
Our work in Tribunal claims includes preparing our clients for giving evidence; what to expect and how to act in order to give the best chance of success. In practice, a witness who is under oath during a break in proceedings should be ‘quarantined’ so that the evidence they have yet to give is not contaminated. We would go further than this case, and advise that, even if you personally have given your evidence, it’s wise to take a cautious approach until the Judge has delivered his or her decision. If journalists approach before the case is over, the best comment is generally ‘no comment’.