Can a tribunal reject my case without a full hearing?

Yes in some circumstances. Sometimes, the tribunal will identify one issue that, if they resolved it, could end the case once and for all, without the cost and time of a full hearing (e.g. 'were you an employee?', in a claim for unfair dismissal, or 'were you disabled?', in a claim for disability discrimination). If the tribunal decides that you are not an employee, or that you are not disabled, your claim has to fail, without any need to examine any of the other matters that make up your claim.

Sometimes a tribunal will look at the ET1 and the ET3 Response Form (often at the request of the employer) and decide, after listening to argument from you, that your claim is so obviously weak that it has no 'reasonable prospects of success'. For example, you may have misunderstood a legal rule that blows a clear hole in your case and means that your case is doomed to failure. This kind of hearing is usually described as a 'preliminary hearing'.

A tribunal should not hold this kind of preliminary hearing to decide your case if there is a clear factual dispute between the two sides that makes a difference to how your claim is decided. This is especially true if your claim is one of discrimination. Tribunals should not dismiss cases where there is a dispute about the relevant facts without a proper hearing to test those facts, which involves cross-examination of witnesses. This is because it is a basic principle of natural justice that justice must be both done and seen to be done.

If a tribunal has doubts as to whether your claim has good prospects of success, you may be ordered to pay a deposit of up to £1,000, which you will forfeit if you lose the case.

If you are ordered to pay a deposit as a condition of being allowed to carry on with your case, you should think very hard about whether you should continue with your case – and take legal advice immediately. If you lose, not only will you forfeit your deposit but you also run a high risk of being ordered to pay some or all of your employer’s legal costs, on the basis that you are continuing with your case unreasonably. These can be very considerable sums.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.