In claims/counterclaims brought under Equality Act 2010, the decision on the claim is made by a Judge. However, parties may notice that the Courts in these cases may appoint an “Assessor” to assist them with these claims and at Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors, we are often asked by our client what an Assessor is and why they are appointed on their claims.
Simply put, an assessor is a person of skill and experience in discrimination issues who helps the Court to evaluate the evidence of fact. They will sit with the Judge at the final hearing but they do not make any decision on the outcome of the claim.
Historically, before the Equality Act 2010 was in force and there were various pieces of legislation in existence to protect against discrimination, there would be two assessors who would sit with judges in cases involving race and sex discrimination only. Assessors are therefore not a new concept in discrimination claims. However, the Equality Act 2010 extended the requirement to having assessors in discrimination claims that are based on any of the protected characteristics, such as sexual orientation or religion or belief. The Act also reduced the number of Assessors required to assist the Court in such claims from two to one.
There is a presumption that the Court will appoint an Assessor when hearing discrimination claims. It is only where there are good reasons not to appoint an Assessor that the Court will depart from this presumption. Some of the examples of good reasons to depart from appointing an Assessor include, for example, the nature of the case (there may be no need for the Court to evaluate the facts that an Assessor would assist with) and the wishes of the claimant.
Parties in the proceedings may nominate Assessors to be considered, or they may be nominated by the Court. This will be decided by the Court when they set a timetable of directions as to how parties shall prepare for the final hearing. Parties will be asked to check that they do not know of any conflict of interest with the proposed Assessor being appointed and they are able to put in writing to the Court as to why they object to the proposed Assessor.