The EAT has issued some guidance on written pleadings which will make employers breathe a sigh of relief. All too often, employment tribunal claims run to several pages, documenting several years of alleged ill treatment, often without stipulating a single legal claim.
The EAT has provided its wisdom in a case called C v D, where the employee had brought a claim for discrimination which ran to 37 paragraphs over 6 pages.
The claim form provided a narrative account of the alleged discrimination. It referred to two different protected characteristics but didn’t say which facts related to which characteristic. Nor did the employee say what type of discrimination was being claimed. The employer replied in narrative style, requesting further information, which the employee provided. When that further information arrived, the employer said the employee was raising new claims and new facts which would now be out of time. An employment tribunal judge refused to allow certain amendments to the claim, so the employee appealed.
As part of her reasoning, the EAT judge discouraged the use of ‘narrative’ pleadings and encouraged legal representatives to use more succinct and clear drafting. Claim forms are not witness statements. They should set out a brief statement of the relevant facts and then the cause of action relied on, such as unfair dismissal or the specific discrimination claim (direct, indirect, discrimination arising from disability, etc) rather than just saying ‘I have been discriminated against’. Witness statements are the place to set out the exhaustive factual detail if it is relevant. This case showed all too clearly what happens if claims lack sufficient legal precision: costs increase (because of the extra hearings and work entailed), time is lost, and delay is inevitable.
There is a balance to be struck here, both in claim forms and responding to them. Sufficient factual basis to support a claim or response, but not too much. The difficulty in striking that balance is the reason many pleadings are overly verbose. There is definitely merit in getting someone legally qualified to draft pleadings, so that this balance can be properly struck, and legal proceedings get off to a good start.