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EAT rules that media should have ET documents

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

As reported in The Guardian it has been ruled that journalists should be provided with access to documents from employment tribunal cases even in the aftermath of a judgment, after a successful legal challenge by the Guardian. In a significant victory for open justice, the employment appeal tribunal threw out a ruling from a lower court that the costs of transparency would be too burdensome, and instead ordered that the Guardian should be provided with documents it had requested.

The Guardian successfully argued that skeleton arguments, witness statements and a number of other documents referred to in an employment tribunal judgment involving allegations of breaches of anti-money laundering regulations by Swiss bank EFG should be provided to the media.

Judge James Tayler said the court ‘adopted far too narrow an approach to the open justice principle’, adding: ‘Material should be made available so that the judgment can be properly understood.’

The judge rejected the contention that locating and copying some of the documents sought would pose ‘real practical difficulty’ and incur ‘significant cost’.

‘The concerns that the employment tribunal raised of its own motion harked back to days where boxes of hardcopy documents would have to be obtained and then the relevant documents would need to be extracted and individually photocopied,’ Tayler said. ‘The judgment conjures up a picture of a solicitor’s office of the ‘70s.’

Tayler said lawyers drafting skeleton arguments and witness statements should ‘remember that such documents can generally be inspected at hearings and may be provided thereafter’, and also suggested that media access to trial bundles ‘might provide a welcome spur to ensure that documentation provided in bundles is limited to that [which is] relevant’.

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