The Presidents of the employment tribunals have published a further road map which sets out what the next few years will hold for employment tribunal claims and how hearings will be conducted. We highlight the key takeaway points.
Virtual hearings are here to stay
The Presidents still consider that generally speaking "justice is best experienced in a face-to-face environment". However, video hearings, at least for now, are going to be needed to tackle the case backlog. The introduction of video hearings has helped to increase the disposal rate of claims and has been essential throughout the various stages of coronavirus restrictions over the last year.
Returning to pre-pandemic ways of working is not an option for employment tribunals as the Presidents have emphasised. Virtual hearings will be essential for at least the next two years, with their use varying depending on the workload of the region. The Presidents confirmed that a mixture of remote, hybrid and in-person hearings will continue.
The new default format for different types of hearing
The following default position for 2021-22 is as follows:
|Preliminary hearings listed in private for case management purposes
|Telephone or video
|Preliminary hearings in public to determine a preliminary issue (e.g. time limits, employment status) & Preliminary hearings to consider an application to strike out or for a deposit order
|Applications for interim relief
|Telephone or video
|Final hearings of short track claims (e.g. unpaid wages, notice, holiday pay, redundancy pay etc)
|Final hearings of standard track claims (unfair dismissal)
|These hearings will vary across the country. Some areas will see more of a return to in-person hearings whereas very busy areas such as London and South East will default to video.
|Final hearings of open track claims (discrimination and whistleblowing)
|These hearings will also vary but in most parts of Britain, they will default to in-person. In busier areas there will be a greater reliance on video or hybrid formats.
|Other hearings listed specifically to deal with applications for reconsideration or costs/expenses
It is intended this default approach will apply to cases yet to be listed.
In each case the employment tribunal judge will decide which hearing format is appropriate, having regard to the overriding objective of the tribunal, along with the access parties have to the internet and necessary equipment to take part in a video hearing. Flexibility will be retained and in every case it will be open to a judge to decide that the default format should not apply. It will also always be possible for parties to write to the tribunal to suggest an alternative format for their hearing.
This month, the President in England and Wales will launch the new virtual region. This new region will operate across all of England and Wales alongside the existing 10 regions. It will provide flexibility by allowing judges, members and staff from across England and Wales to come together via the Cloud Video Platform to hear cases generated from regions across both countries.
The Presidents recognised the growing number of outstanding claims, particularly in London and the South East which now holds half of the outstanding caseload in Britain. The virtual region's resources will initially be used to help process this outstanding case load.
From mid-April sixteen new Legal Officers will start working in tribunals across the UK. Legal Officers will help with 'case progression' and be given delegated powers by the Presidents to help deal with certain aspects of procedure which will help to address the outstanding case load.
Case management system
The Presidents also provided an update on its new case management system which is hoped to increase the efficiency of the case management process.
Please get in touch with a member of the employment and immigration team should you wish to discuss anything raised in this blog. Practical guidance on Tribunal Claims and ACAS Early Conciliation is also available for Workbox by Brodies subscribers.