Does a mental health condition justify an extension of time?

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in Palihakkara v The English Sport Council has recently considered whether a mental health condition explained a Claimant’s delayed appeal and whether that was reason to extend the time limit for accepting that appeal.

Background

The Claimant lodged an appeal 675 days out of time. The EAT Registrar refused to extend time to accept the appeal, the Claimant appealed that decision.

The Claimant put forward medical evidence to support the fact that she suffered from Depression and Anxiety which she argued had impeded her ability to lodge the appeal in time.

The Law

Under the Employment Appeal Tribunal Rules 1993 (the Tribunal Rules) the deadline to appeal a decision to the EAT is 42 days from the date of sending the written reasons. Rule 37 provides a discretion to extend the 6-week rule.

Decision

The EAT dismissed the appeal. In reaching this decision the EAT considered the three relevant questions on an application for an extension of time:

  • What was the explanation for the default in this case?
  • Does this amount to a good explanation?
  • Are there circumstances which justify the EAT taking the exceptional step of granting the extension of time?

After careful consideration of the facts in this case the EAT concluded that ‘this was not a case where there were any circumstances that would justify the exceptional step of granting an extension of timeand so dismissed the appeal. The EAT recognised that the Claimant’s ill-health may have impacted upon her ability to appropriately engage with the legal proceedings at various points but did not accept that it explained the entirety of the ‘very significant’ delay. The EAT also went on to consider the merits of the appeal, which can be an element to consider when determining the question of an extension of time, but found that there were no merits in the proposed appeal.

Comment

This case acts as a reminder that all parties to tribunal proceedings need to be punctual with deadlines set out in the Tribunal Rules. Whilst there are exceptions to the general rules, for them to apply there must be an exceptional reason and an extension is by no means guaranteed. The Tribunal Rules should be taken seriously by respondents (and claimants alike), and exceptions should be viewed as a hard hurdle to overcome. Employers should be reassured that Tribunals will look in some detail at reasons provided by Claimants when deciding if the delay is explained in full.

Case Reference: Palihakkara v The English Sport Council [2023] EAT 27

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