The appeal stages and court structure in employment disputes in the UK is demonstrated by the high-profile Chagger v Abbey National plc & Hopkins (2006) legal case, where the Employment Tribunal found race discrimination and made the record breaking 2.8 million compensation award. Abbey National Santander Abbey (the UK high street bank soon to be re-branded as Santander share, and being part of the Banco Santander Group) ended Balbinder Chagger’s employment in 2006, giving redundancy as the reason. However, Mr Chagger believed the real reason behind his dismissal was race discrimination. Mr Chagger (of Indian origin) was employed as a Trading Risk Controller. He earned around 100,000 a year and reported into Nigel Hopkins, his manager.
If an employee has suffered unfairness and/or discrimination in employment then he could decide to appeal. The first point of appeal may be to the employer, in the form of a formal grievance. The employee lodges the formal grievance with the employer. The employer is responsible for hearing the grievance and deciding its outcome. The employer is, thus, given the opportunity to deal with the employment dispute and to close it satisfactorily. However, Mr Chagger’s issues were simply dismissed out of hand by the Banco Santander Group company.
If the parties cannot resolve their employment dispute between themselves, then either party may appeal to an Employment Tribunal for an independent resolution of the dispute. Employment Tribunals will hear disputes concerning unfair dismissal, redundancy payments and discrimination. Mr Chagger eventually appealed to the Employment Tribunal by starting legal proceedings against both Santander Abbey National and Mr Hopkins on the grounds of race discrimination and unfair dismissal. The Employment Tribunal heard the case and concluded that Mr Chagger had been both dismissed unfairly and discriminated against on the grounds of race in respect of his dismissal, by both Mr Hopkins and Santander Abbey National. The Employment Tribunal took the rare step of ordering Abbey Santander to reinstate Mr Chagger in order to remedy the wrong of race discrimination it had committed. Santander Abbey National, however, refused to comply with the Employment Tribunal’s reinstatement order. Following Santander Abbey National’s failure to comply, the Employment Tribunal subsequently ordered Abbey Santander to pay Mr Chagger the record breaking 2.8 million compensation for his loss on the basis that he had not been reinstated.
The employee/employer that is dissatisfied with the Employment Tribunal’s decisions may appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). The EAT will consider appeals against decisions made by Employment Tribunals. The grounds of appeal must be points of law (i.e., the appeal must be about errors in the legal reasoning of the Employment Tribunal’s decision). The EAT will not reconsider issues of fact. Santander Abbey National and Mr Hopkins appealed to the EAT against the Employment Tribunal’s decision of race discrimination and against the award of 2.8 million compensation. The EAT heard Abbey Santander’s appeals. It decided to uphold the original Employment Tribunal’s finding that Mr Hopkins and Santander Abbey National had discriminated against Mr Chagger on the grounds of race in respect of his dismissal. However, it accepted Abbey Santander’s appeal on the record breaking 2.8 million compensation award and remitted the compensation matter to the original Employment Tribunal for reconsideration on the basis of the likelihood of Mr Chagger leaving Santander Abbey National’s employment in any case.
The party that is dissatisfied with the EAT’s decisions may appeal to the Court of Appeal, being the second highest court in the land. The Court of Appeal will consider appeals against decisions made by the EAT. Once again, the grounds of the appeal must be points of law (i.e., the appeal must be about errors in the legal reasoning of the EAT’s decision). The Court of Appeal will not reconsider issues of fact either. The Santander Abbey National case was appealed to the Court of Appeal; the Court of Appeal’s website showed the case was heard this month, on 7 and 8 July 2009. The Court of Appeal’s records concerning the hearing were not available at the time of writing this article. According to 11KBW set of chambers, the hearing was limited to the issue of compensation only (i.e., not to the matter of race discrimination also). That would suggest that the wrong of race discrimination committed by Santander Abbey National and Mr Hopkins seems to have been finalised by the EAT, which upheld the original Employment Tribunal’s finding that Mr Hopkins and Abbey Santander had discriminated against Mr Chagger on the grounds of race in his dismissal.
The party that is dissatisfied with the Court of Appeal’s decisions may appeal to the House of Lords, being the highest court in the land. Any appeal to the House of Lords requires the Court of Appeal’s approval and the Court of Appeal must also certify a question of general public importance that the House of Lords needs to decide upon. Again, appeals to the House of Lords must be about points of law and not about issues of fact. The House of Lords is the final stage of appeal for most legal cases in the UK. However, rare cases may be permitted for appeal to the European Court of Justice, which has jurisdiction on matters of European Community law.