The WRC is the Workplace Relations Committee which was established by the Workplace Relations Act 2015 to perform certain functions, adjudication on disputes under employment legislation being one of those functions.
Up until April 6th 2021, those hearings were in private, with no sworn evidence being heard and the parties names were usually anonymised. The belief beingthat WRC hearings would be less formal and intimidating.
Changes have been necessitated following the Supreme Court decision in Tomasz Zalewski and An Adjudication Office, details which are outlined in the link below.
Mr Zalewski was dismissed by his employers, Buywise Discount Store Ltd., and he brought a claim for unfair dismissal to the WRC. The parties attended a WRC hearing however it was adjourned due to the unavailability of a witness. The WRC adjudicator adjourned the hearing, however when the parties returned on the agreed ate, the Adjudication Officer informed the meeting attendees that she had already made her decision.
Mr Zalewski subsequently brought proceedings to the High Court seeking an order to quash the WRC’s decision and challenged the constitutionality of the general WRC procedures laid out in the 2015 Act. The High Court had to decide whether or not the WRC process amounted to the administration of justice required under the Constitution to be administered in courts, and whether the statutory framework adequately vindicated a claimant’s rights under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The full Supreme Court decision can be here.
Two important aspects of the way the WRC hearings have been held in the past are now deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court:
1. A blanket prohibition on WRC hearings being held in public, and
2. The absence of the administering of an oath before taking evidence, and the possibility of punishment for giving false evidence.
This has now necessitated changes in the way WRC hearings will be held from now on.
Hearings in public
All hearings involving the administration of justice are open to the public from now on. And decisions will be published using the parties’ names and not anonymised names which has been the practice to date.
During Covid-19 arrangements were put in place to allow hearings to be help via WebEx i.e. virtual hearings. The Adjudication Officer may limit the number of external observers.
Conflict of evidence
If there is a direct conflict of evidence, the Adjudication Officer will adjourn the hearing to await the amendment of the Workplace Relations Act 2015 which will empower the Adjudication Officer to administer an oath or affirmation. The legislation will also include a penalty for the giving of false evidence. New procedural guidelines will reflect the right to cross examine witnesses.