Sometimes a Judge will decide that a preliminary hearing is necessary to make certain decisions before a case goes to a final hearing. These hearings are usually with a Judge sitting alone, and they are often conducted by conference call. Examples of issues which could be considered at a preliminary hearing are:
- Scheduling the provision of information – eg schedule of loss, documents and witness statements
- In a disability discrimination claim, whether the Claimant is disabled
- What documents should be disclosed
- Interim awards and deposits
When the hearing is to decide case management issues and timetabling, the Tribunal often sends agenda proforma to complete and send to the Tribunal and the Respondent before the hearing. You will probably find that you cannot complete the form in full, but if you answer as many questions as possible, in detail, you will be well-prepared for the hearing, and should be able to respond to any additional issues which arise.
Sometimes, particularly in discrimination claims, Judicial Mediation can be offered to the parties. This involves attending the Tribunal, where a Judge will mediate between the parties to help them reach agreement. Judicial Mediation is much more informal than a hearing, and has a high success rate. If a Judge thinks a case may be suitable for Judicial Mediation they will often raise this at Preliminary Hearing. More information about Judicial Mediation is available on the gov.uk and Citizens Advice websites.
The protocol for Judicial Assessment states that a Judge can give ‘an impartial and confidential assessment… at an early stage in the proceedings, of the strengths,
weaknesses and risks of the parties’ respective claims’. It is intended to assist both parties in recognising how likely it is that a claim will succeed, and therefore to help in negotiations about settlement. An assessment is usually given at the first preliminary hearing, and if you would like such an assessment you should tell the Tribunal before the hearing takes place. Certain conditions must be met before a Judicial Assessment can be made. The protocol which describes the procedure can be found here.