Members of an Employment Tribunal (ET) have been criticised for falling into a trap which more commonly ensnares unqualified jurors by resorting to the Internet in a bid to fill gaps in the evidence in a disability discrimination case.
The ET was considering a woman’s discrimination and unfair dismissal claim against an ambulance service. The woman had appeared in person and, in order to make good perceived inadequacies in the medical evidence, members of the panel had privately carried out research on the Internet without prior reference to the parties.
In upholding the woman’s claim, the panel revealed the fruits of its online search, the accuracy and reliability of which it appeared to have accepted uncritically. The members refused to disqualify themselves from further hearing the case in terms which indicated that they had developed ‘an animus’ towards the ambulance service.
In upholding the ambulance service’s appeal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruled that the members had ‘descended impermissibly into the arena’. In seeking to use the Internet to construct arguments which would favour the woman’s case, they had given the appearance of hostility towards the ambulance service.
In directing a fresh hearing of the case, the EAT noted that, far from causing no harm to anyone, the panel’s mistaken use of the Internet had exposed the parties to the substantial expense and delay of an appeal and a complete rehearing of the matter.