In the last five months the Employment Tribunals have had to dramatically change the way they deal with cases as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ‘road map’ published in the Employment Tribunals FAQ document on 1 June 2020 outlines four phases for the listing and hearing of cases between June and December 2020.
We are now in the second phase, in which the Tribunals are starting to determine straightforward, unfair dismissal cases by remote video hearing, using the ‘Cloud Video Platform’. This technology, specifically designed for HMCTS, is accessible by any internet-enabled device with a camera and a microphone.
At Mills & Reeve we have been involved in a number of video hearings, where all the parties have dialled in separately from their homes.
If you are in HR and find yourself managing a case that has gone to Tribunal, or being asked to give evidence as a witness remotely, there are a few things you should know.
Some things haven’t changed. For example, you must dress and conduct yourself in the same professional manner on video as you would if attending Tribunal in person. However, for the most part the environment is very different.
- You will need to make sure you know how to dial in for the hearing using the details you’re sent. It is a good idea to practice a few days before the hearing and to check your audio and video are working.
- You will need to do your best to dial in from somewhere private and quiet, preferably with a dark, plain background behind you.
- Your legal team will need to arrange to communicate with you by text or email during the live hearing. During breaks, you may be asked to dial in to Zoom or Skype meetings for more detailed discussions with them.
- You are likely to have the option of viewing the electronic bundle on screen (which will at least save you the back-breaking task of carting files to and from Tribunal).
- The progress of video hearings is, in general, much slower. They can also be more tiring. You should make sure you have refreshments to hand as breaks may be short.
Judges do understand the current challenges of working remotely and so if you do encounter problems on the day, they will generally be patient and the clerk will do everything they can to help.
The Tribunals plan to gradually increase the number and type of hearings which can take place remotely over the course of 2020. In the future, when the Tribunals’ capacity to hold hearings in person increases again, we may see a hybrid of the two. For example, why not use electronic bundles during hearings in person, or allow some witnesses to give evidence remotely when it is in the interests of justice to do so?
Whilst hearings in person remain the gold standard, our experience during the pandemic is likely to help us all learn to manage cases more efficiently and effectively going forwards.