Tribunals a forum for 'Euro-claims'

INDUSTRIAL tribunals have accepted a wider jurisdiction to hear “Euro-claims” against the State after a ruling handed down in Newcastle-upon-Tyne confirmed they were an appropriate forum in which to hear actions relating to the failure to adequately implement EU law in the UK.

The decision, passed in a case involving mass redundancies in the Swan Hunter administrative receivership, has dispelled much of the confusion surrounding the “Francovich-style” actions.

Prior to the ruling it was unclear which forum within the UK would be able to hear such claims.

Former Swan Hunter employees challenged both the limits imposed on protective awards and the failure of the UK Government to designate a suitable court for the hearing of EC claims.

In its judgment, the tribunal accepted jurisdiction to hear Francovich claims on the basis that the Swan Hunter case involved no “new or extraordinary principle”.

Barnett Alexander Chart employment specialist Ruth Harvey says that although the ruling may be appealed it still marks a milestone in European law because “now we've actually got an explicit acceptance of the tribunal's obligations to sit as a community court in areas of community competence.

“The tribunal has recognised a new cause of action at European level within the UK.”

“What they have now done is to say 'okay, we can hear these cases,'” says Harvey.

However, Dibb Lupton Broomhead's London employment partner Jill Andrew says the question of an appropriate forum for hearing EC claims remains “unsettled” despite the ruling.

“Under article 117 of the Treaty of Rome, tribunals are empowered to make references to the European Court of Justice,” says Andrew. “It follows from that that they are firmly within the remit of European jurisdiction.

“However, the Government is currently disputing whether tribunals have jurisdiction to hear claims for damages against the UK Government arising out of Francovich-based claims in view of the limited jurisdiction of tribunals.”