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Making a complaint

Make a complaint

india Updated: Jan 17, 2004 15:16 IST
PTI

Making a complaint
If you think you have been discriminated against, you need to act quickly. There are time limits for bringing cases to a court or tribunal under the Race Relations Act.

Also, racial discrimination can be difficult to prove. You will have a better chance of convincing a court or tribunal that you have been discriminated against if you gather as much evidence as you can, as soon as possible.

How do I start?
First, make a careful, detailed record of the incident you think was racially discriminatory. Note the names of possible witnesses and, if you can, ask them to make a record of what happened, too.

At this stage it might be possible to sort out the problem by speaking to someone in charge, such as a manager or teacher. Many workplaces and schools have equality policies which include procedures to resolve incidents of discrimination.

Where can I get advice?
Various agencies can give you advice about your complaint. In some cases, they may also be able to give you legal assistance and help you to bring your case before a court or tribunal. You can get advice about your complaint from:

a. Your local racial equality council

b.A citizens advice bureau or another local advice service, a complainant aid body or a law centre (look up your local phone book for addresses and phone numbers)

c. Your trade union (if the incident is related to work, there is a union at your workplace, and you are a member)

d. Your nearest CRE office

Where are discrimination cases heard?
Cases involving racial discrimination in employment are heard in employment tribunals. Other racial discrimination cases are heard in county courts (in England and Wales) or sheriff courts (in Scotland). The CRE cannot itself rule on racial discrimination cases; only the courts and tribunals can do that.
Taking your case to an employment tribunal

You may also have other complaints, such as unfair dismissal, sex or disability discrimination, other civil claims against public authorities or immigration appeals, which you can bring at the same time as a complaint of racial discrimination. You should get advice from your local citizens advice bureau or law centre about your rights in these areas, too.

The Equal Opportunities Commission can advise you on complaints involving sex discrimination and equal pay, and the Disability Rights Commission on complaints involving discrimination on grounds of disability.

Are there time limits for bringing a discrimination case?
Yes. There are different, and very strict, time limits for registering different types of race cases brought under the Race Relations Act.

Tribunal deadlines for employment cases: three months less one day from the date of the incident you are complaining about.

County and sheriff court deadlines for other cases: six months less one day from the date of the incident you are complaining about.

Exceptionally, and only in very limited circumstances, the court or tribunal will consider a late application when they believe it is 'just and equitable' to do so.

Is it easy to bring a racial discrimination case?
No. Proving that racial discrimination has occurred is not easy. This is because:
a. the person claiming discrimination has to prove it

b. Evidence of discrimination is difficult to find, and witnesses are often reluctant to come forward

c. The law on racial discrimination is complex and you will probably need some specialist advice and assistance in preparing and presenting your case

d. In some non-employment cases it can take up to two years before the case is heard

e. Public funding (formerly known as legal aid) is only available for representation in county court or sheriff court cases, not for hearings at employment tribunals.

f. If you have a low income, you may be able to obtain advice at the early stages of your case (but not representation at the tribunal hearing) from a solicitor. Public funding is available for all the appeal stages of a case

g. Pursuing a case can be very stressful and time-consuming. It is not a decision that should be taken lightly. If your complaint is about an employment matter, you should make full use of your employer's internal grievance procedures and your trade union's services (if you are a member). Litigation should be a last resort. However, it is important to seek advice about your complaint as soon as possible, because of the strict time limits for registering complaints in the courts and tribunals.

Can my case be settled out of court?
In general, it is best to try to settle your case before it gets to a full hearing, if you can agree terms that a court or tribunal would consider reasonable in the circumstances. In practice, a significant proportion of all cases are settled on agreed terms. You may agree to settle your complaint by accepting a sum of money or an apology, for example, instead of going to court or tribunal.

In employment cases, you will automatically be offered the services of ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), to help you to reach a settlement. ACAS is an independent body set up to act as a go-between in disputes. You are under no obligation to accept ACAS's advice, but if you do settle through ACAS, your complaint cannot go to the tribunal and must be withdrawn. ACAS cannot assist with settling county or sheriff court cases, but your adviser or representative should be able to help.

What are the likely outcomes if my case goes to a hearing?
Employment tribunal cases
If you win, the tribunal can order compensation to be paid to you. The amount may include a sum for lost earnings and benefits and a sum for injury to feelings. There is no ceiling to the amount a tribunal can award, although it will normally follow guidelines and precedents from previous cases. If you win, the tribunal can also recommend that your employer take certain steps to enable you to work without further discrimination.

If you lose, you will not automatically be ordered to pay the other side's legal costs, but the tribunal may make you pay if they think you acted unreasonably in pursuing your case.

You or the employer can appeal against the tribunal's decision to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, but only on a point of law. You have 42 days to lodge an appeal. Appeal cases are eligible for public funding (formerly known as legal aid).

Taking your case to an employment tribunal
County court and sheriff court cases
If you win, the court can order compensation to be paid to you. The amount may include a sum to compensate you for any losses and a sum for injury to feelings. There is no ceiling to the compensation that a court can award, but awards tend to be lower than those made by tribunals.

If you lose, you will usually have to pay the other side's legal costs.

Can I withdraw my complaint?
Yes, you can withdraw your complaint at any time. However, the longer you leave it before withdrawing, the greater the possibility that you might have to pay the respondent's legal cases.

The tribunal can, at any time, order the case to be struck out or amended if they think it is unreasonable, or of they think you are just trying to make trouble.

Can I get public funding (formerly known as legal aid)?
You cannot get public funding for representation at an employment tribunal. If you are unemployed, or have a low income, you may be able to get advice or help from a solicitor under the Green Form Scheme.

You can apply for legal aid for court cases. In the first instance, you should seek advice from an advice agency, or from a private lawyer.

Can I get legal representation?
You can apply to the CRE for assistance. All applicants to the CRE will receive some advice, but only a small proportion of applicants receive legal representation.

Other sources of advice, such as racial equality councils, advice centres or your trade union, may, in some circumstances, be able to provide legal representation as well as advice, but you cannot rely on this.

If you are determined to pursue your case, especially if it is an employment case, where legal aid is not available, you should be prepared to represent yourself, unless you can afford a private lawyer.

(Courtesy: Commission for Racial Equality)

First Published: Jan 16, 2004 17:35 IST