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The Court of Appeal has said that there will be more missed deadlines in employment cases unless litigants seek legal advice and representation (O’Cathail v Transport for London).
After a delay of one day in submitting documents to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) proved fatal to a former employee’s case, the Court pinpointed the risks taken by litigants who fail to employ legal advisers.
Greg O’Cathail, a disabled man who suffers from depression, anxiety and panic attacks, was dismissed by his employers, Transport for London, after a lengthy period of sick leave. An Employment Tribunal (ET) later upheld his disability discrimination claim, awarding him £3,000 in compensation, but dismissed a claim of harassment.
He lodged an appeal against the dismissal of his harassment claim with the EAT within the required 42-day time limit. However, after suffering a panic attack, he was one day out of time in filing supporting documents.
His appeal was rejected after the EAT’s registrar refused his application for a one-day extension of time and his challenge to that decision has now been dismissed by the Court of Appeal.
Lord Justice Mummery said that there was uncontradicted medical evidence that the appellant’s depression, anxiety and panic attacks are ‘exacerbated by court hearings’. However, he ruled that there were no exceptional circumstances that would justify the intervention of the Court of Appeal.
The judge went on to say that the EAT’s discretion to extend time deadlines was ‘sparingly exercised’, as was the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal to overrule a procedural decision reached by a court or tribunal in the exercise of a statutory discretion.
He concluded, “Applications for an extension of time are most often made by unrepresented applicants. Over the years, professional representation in the ETs has diminished. That trend will continue. There will be more missed deadlines.”