Journalists should be provided with access to documents from employment tribunal cases even in the aftermath of a judgment, it has been ruled. Following a successful legal challenge by the Guardian (as reported here), the employment appeal tribunal has rejected a ruling from a lower court that the costs of transparency would be too burdensome, ordering that the Guardian should be provided with the documents it had requested.
‘The press have an important role in reporting the judgments of courts and tribunals,’ the judge, James Tayler, ruled. ‘It is in the public interest that they have the necessary information to be able to do so fairly and accurately.’ The appeal related to an application by a Guardian journalist, David Pegg, and concerned Dmitri Rozanov, an employee of the London branch of EFG, a Swiss bank which he claimed had unfairly sacked him. Rozanov argued he was sacked after raising concerns about compliance with anti-money-laundering practices and a $100m transaction for a client allegedly connected to Chechen despot Ramzan Kadyrov. The tribunal concluded that the matters Rozanov had raised did constitute protected disclosures in law but found that the bank sacked him for reasons other than his protected disclosures. The Guardian subsequently wrote to the tribunal requesting copies of documents mentioned in the judgment. The employment appeal tribunal reversed the lower tribunal’s rejection and ordered EFG to hand over the documents.
Meanwhile a coalition of over 300 journalists, doctors and whistleblowers called for proceedings in the employment tribunal to be recorded and provided with official transcripts. As previously reported in The Law Society Gazette, signatories to a letter sent to the president of the employment tribunal services in England and Wales argued that the lack of independent and complete transcripts represented a ‘serious shortcoming’ in the current system. They argue that an ‘accurate and complete court record is a fundamental prerequisite and basis for a fair trial’ and that the inaccessibility of such documents to parties in a case hamper the prospects of a successful appeal.
At present, no official transcripts or recordings are made of employment tribunal proceedings; individuals who make one can be charged for contempt of court. According to the letter, well-resourced defendants can employ professional note-takers and have a ‘considerable advantage’ over claimants relying on ‘memory and incomplete notes’.
‘Providing litigants and their legal teams recordings and automated transcripts of the hearing would be a major leap forward for open justice and access to justice,’ said the barrister, Sophie Walker. Walker is the founder of the company Just Transcription, which works to increase access to legal transcripts and reduce the costs and procedures involved in obtaining this documentation for lawyers and their clients.
Whilst judges’ notes are regarded as the official record for proceedings and are thus made available to employment appeal tribunals, they are seen as private documents and are not made available to parties in a case. ‘This imbalance irretrievably denies parties the right to prepare adequately an appeal and it is manifestly unfair,’ argues the letter. Reference to the full record ‘is the only way to determine whether the decision made was fair and proper’.
Additional reporting by Jon Robins