Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Civil servant wins privacy case

Landmark ruling sees swap employee's details taken off Industrial Tribunal register

A FRIGHTENED gender change civil servant - who believed publicity would lead to her being physically attacked - has won a landmark case to protect her identity.

The male to female transsexual has won the right to have her name removed from the Office of Industrial Tribunals' register.

The Court of Appeal in Belfast has ruled that the Industrial Tribunals was WRONG to say it did not have the power to delete her name from its register.

The woman, an official in the Department of Agriculture, first lodged a complaint against her employers in 2002 claiming she'd been the victim of less favourable treatment because of her sexuality. Her concerns for privacy were raised when it first came before a tribunal in October 2004.

In March 2005, when the case resumed, she made it clear she was not prepared to proceed with her claim without protection from publicity as she feared that it could lead to intimidation and attacks on her and her home.

Her lawyer asked for an order restricting media reporting of the case and for an order deleting her details from the public register.

The tribunal dismissed her applications on April 21, 2005.

When she was refused an adjournment she left the court and the case continued in her absence.

But the decision of the tribunal to continue without her was later quashed at a judicial review and a fresh hearing was ordered.

The Equality Commission then wrote to the President of the Industrial Tribunals asking that the decision of April 21, 2005 be anonymised and deleted from the register.

But the Industrial Tribunals replied there was no provision in the rules to delete names from its register.

At the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Campbell said: "Given their literal meaning and read in isolation, the regulations and rules do not give an industrial tribunal or chairman the power to order that an entry in the register be deleted."

But he said obligations under Europe's Equal Treatment Directive could not be met by the tribunal if there was evidence the appellant was unable to proceed with an equality case because of the risk to her safety.

Lord Justice Campbell said rule 59 of the Industrial Tribunals regulations, which gives a tribunal chairman wide discretionary powers, could be read " without any distortion" so as to permit a tribunal to omit from the register any material likely to lead to idenification of the claimant by any member of public.

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