March 15th, 2024 by James Goudie KC

There is a well-established general presumption that changes to procedure apply not only to future proceedings but also to pending proceedings. This is because a procedural change is expected to improve matters and support the better administration of justice. Alterations in the form of procedure are always retrospective, unless there is some good reason or other why they should not be. A litigant has no right to complain that procedure is changed during the course of litigation unless it causes unfairness or injustice.

How fairness determines such retrospective application depends on several factors. These include the value of any rights which the new rule affects and the extent to which that value is diminished or extinguished. Light may be shed by consideration of the circumstances in which the legislation was enacted.

The essential question in MELKI v BOUYGUES ( 2024 ) EAT 36, at paras 25-29 inclusive, was whether changes to the Employment Appeal Tribunal Rules applying to pending proceedings was so unfair that the that the words used in the statutory instrument cannot have been intended to mean what they might appear to say. That was simply that the new Rules came into force on a specified date, without any transitional provision. The Rules had been amended to improve the fairness and justice of consideration of incomplete Notices of Appeal. The previous Rules were amended as they were too rigid in cases of minor errors and led to potential unfairness. The new Rule was proposed to draw a better balance between parties.

Whether it be the EAT Rules or the CPR Rules, Rules change from time to time. Unless a transitional provision is included stating the opposite , or unless there is more than modest unfairness to the respondent, the new provision applies to all litigation from the date it is expressed to come into force. There is no absurdity about the test being different before and after that date.

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