Tribunals have the discretion to adjourn a hearing on medical grounds in certain circumstances. In Iqbal v Metropolitan Police Service and ors, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) said that, when considering whether to do so, tribunals must take any medical evidence into account and apply the guidance given in the case of Teinaz v London Borough of Wandsworth.

Basic facts

Soon after joining the Met as a police community support officer in August 2007, Mr Iqbal started to apply for a series of other posts with the police but was unsuccessful in all of them.

In late 2009 he started to develop back pain for which he took medication and had time off work in 2010. The Met considered relocating him but he took out a grievance and the move did not take place. An occupational health report dated March 2011 noted that, in addition to his back condition, he was being treated for depression and had “ongoing psychological problems”.

He brought claims for discrimination on a number of grounds, including disability, citing his record of failure in getting another post with the police and the attempt to relocate him.

The claims were listed for an eight-day hearing but a week before it was due to start, Mr Iqbal applied for an adjournment saying that he needed further information. This was refused; he asked again but was refused a second time.

He turned up for the hearing on the first day but applied for an adjournment on the second day, citing poor physical and mental health.

Tribunal decision

The tribunal refused the application saying it was not in the interests of justice and that he had not produced any medical evidence to support his allegation of poor health. Mr Iqbal protested that it would be a “miscarriage of justice” if the tribunal did not agree to the adjournment, but was told the decision had already been taken.

He then said that he wanted to withdraw his claims because of concerns about his health to which the tribunal agreed. However, he subsequently applied for a review on the basis of the March 2011 occupational health report. The judge held that the matter was closed as Mr Iqbal had withdrawn his claims which had been dismissed. He appealed on the basis that his right to a fair hearing had been breached.

EAT decision

The EAT allowed the appeal, saying that tribunals should follow the advice given in the 2002 case of Teinaz v London Borough of Wandsworth, which stated, among other things that:

  • A litigant who cannot be present at their own trial through no fault of their own should usually be granted an adjournment
  • Tribunals are entitled to be satisfied that the reason for the person’s absence is genuine
  • The onus is on the applicant to prove the need for an adjournment
  • If there is medical evidence that the person is not fit to participate in the hearing, an adjournment will generally have to be granted whatever the inconvenience to the other parties
  • If there is no direct medical evidence, the tribunal should look at any information it has about the health of the person concerned and consider a short adjournment.

In this case the tribunal had failed to take into account information about Mr Iqbal’s medical history in the occupational health report which indicated he was suffering from depression, and should have adjourned for a short period to enable him to seek medical advice.