Out-Law News 2 min. read

Information Commissioner orders naming of Tribunal employers

Organisations involved in Employment Tribunals will have their identities published after a ruling by privacy watchdog the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). The ruling reinstates a practice that was discontinued in 2001.

Advert: free OUT-LAW Breakfast Seminars - 1. Making your contract work: pitfalls and best practices; 2. Transferring data: the information security issuesBetween 1965 and 2001 a register of employers involved in Tribunals was published. Following a consultation, the Government discontinued that procress in 2001. The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) has now been ordered to hand the information over to a person who has requested it.

The request was made in 2005 and turned down by BERR predecessor the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI), which had responsibility for Tribunals. The identity of individuals making complaints will not be publicised.

BERR argued that the information should not be published because it could harm companies who are incorrectly accused of behaving improperly. It also claimed that the publicising of disputes would reduce the chances of an amicable settlement.

BERR also claimed that the publication of employing organisations' details would open them up to contact by representatives hoping to sell their services in helping the companies through the Tribunal process.

BERR had claimed that, therefore, there was a public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of the records.

The ICO's deputy information commissioner Graham Smith has issued a ruling in which he disagrees.

"There is a very weak - if any - public interest in maintaining the exemption," said Smith in the ruling. "There is a competing general public interest in disclosure which is strengthened by the more specific public interest in “open justice” so that the details of cases brought before courts and tribunals should normally be in the public domain unless there is good reason for confidentiality."

"The public interest in maintaining the exemption does not outweigh the public interest in disclosing the requested information," he wrote.

BERR said that the release of the information could lead to companies, particularly more vulnerable smaller companies, being victim of pressure selling from organisations seeking to represent them at Tribunals.

Anyone can represent one of the parties in a Tribunal and solicitors are barred from advertising themselves.

The ICO's ruling said that BERR had argued that the publication of details of firms involved in claims would expose them to marketing from companies seeking to represent them.

"It would make it easier for organisations to market their services directly to respondents and increase the likelihood of them being formally represented at tribunal proceedings. Where small firms with limited resources are concerned this can amount to more than trivial annoyance, particularly as some of the approaches made are expressed in misleading terms which could result in unnecessary costs to organisations," it said.

"There is a danger that the publication will lead to contact from companies," said Ben Doherty, an employment law specialist with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM. "And this won't be from solicitors. Anyone can represent you at a Tribunal. "Having said that, employers were not likely to be very upset about the change."

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