Applying For Adjournments

Transport for London v O’Cathail

In the Court of Appeal case of Transport for London v O’Cathail the Court of Appeal considered whether there could ever be circumstances where it would be reasonable for a Tribunal to refuse an adjournment application where one party was unable to attend due to ill health.

Pursuant to the ET Rules, an ET has the power to order a postponement or adjournment of a hearing. It will usually be the case that a hearing will not go ahead where it is felt that the litigant is required to attend to ensure a fair trial and, through no fault of their own, they are unable to attend (E.G. for medical reasons).

In this case, the Claimant brought a claim for disability discrimination after being dismissed following a period of long-term sickness. After a number of unsuccessful applications to postpone the hearing due to ill health, the Employment Tribunal eventually decided to postpone the hearing.

Upon the expiry of that postponement, the Claimant applied for another postponement which was refused, the ET believing that it was fairer to hold the hearing than grant another postponement, and ultimately rejected his claim.

This is because the case had been running for a number of years, had been postponed previously at the Claimant’s request, had seen significant tribunal resources incurred, and would mean a further witness of the Respondent being unavailable.

The Court of Appeal decided that:-

1. The Tribunal had acted with care and in great detail when coming to their decision;

2. The Tribunal had correctly considered the unfairness to the Respondent of a further postponement; and

3. It was not always necessary to grant a postponement so as not to infringe someone’s rights to a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This should be seen as a ‘rare’ case with limited scope. However, it does give hope to Respondents that there are circumstances which exist, however rare, that will see a Tribunal consider it more unfair to grant the Claimant’s application for a postponement to a hearing, than to go along with his/her wishes.

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