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23 March 2022

Guardian Wins Legal Challenge Over Access To Employment Tribunal Papers

Journalists should be provided with access to documents from Employment Tribunal cases even in the aftermath of a judgment, it has been ruled, after a successful legal challenge by the Guardian.

In a victory for open justice, the Employment Appeal Tribunal threw out a ruling from a lower court that the costs of transparency would be too burdensome, and instead ordered that the Guardian should be provided with documents it had requested. The judge suggested the documents should be released at no cost, the Guardian reported.

“The press have an important role in reporting the judgments of courts and tribunals,” the judge James Tayler ruled. “It is in the public interest that they have the necessary information to be able to do so fairly and accurately.”

Katharine Viner, Guardian editor-in-chief, said: “This is a significant judgment in favour of open justice and emphasises the importance of allowing journalists to see documents referred to in employment tribunals.”

She added: “The ruling is a welcome signal that open justice and public interest journalism can and must go hand in hand.”

The case relates to an application by a Guardian journalist in 2018 for documents referred to in the public judgment of an Employment Tribunal case for an employee of a Swiss bank. The Guardian successfully appealed a ruling that documents should not be disclosed. 

Tayler criticised a suggestion that giving journalists access to tribunal documents would be too expensive. “The decision of the employment tribunal to give more weight to the possible minor inconvenience in providing the documents than to the principle of open justice means that the determination reached by the employment tribunal was wrong,” he wrote.

“Far from this being a case in which the principle of open justice was not strongly engaged, the converse was the case,” Tayler wrote.

“GNM set out proper journalistic reasons for seeking provision of the documentation. The public interest in the underlying subject matter of the proceedings was something that should also have weighed in favour of granting the application.”

The bank has submitted an appeal to challenge part of the judge’s ruling as it argues that a set of documents should not be released, while it accepts that the Guardian should be given copies of two other sets of documents.