All change at the employment tribunal

Three recent changes to the way employment tribunal operate may not be seem much on their own, but cumulatively they will have a significant effect on users’ experience. On top of that, the Government has recently floated the re-introduction of fees.

Recording hearings

Although the technology to do this has been partially in place for many years, it is only since November that a decision has been taken to make audio recordings of hearings where this is possible. That will mean that most remote hearings and many in person hearings will now be recorded as routine.

If the hearing is recorded, the parties will be able to access a transcript on payment of a fee.  In addition a tribunal may listen to the audio recording during the course of a hearing or when preparing its judgment.

This change is bound to make a difference to the pace at which hearings proceed.  While the employment judge will need to continue to take notes, they will probably not need to be as comprehensive when it is known that an audio recording will be available afterwards. The behaviour of the parties may also be constrained by the knowledge that every word uttered, and the tone in which is spoken, will be captured.

Further reduction in use of panels

Legislation was passed last month which will enable the President of the Tribunals to make a practice direction about the composition of employment tribunals.  Although there has already been a move in that direction in recent years, it is expected that this will lead to a further reduction in the use of panels and significantly more cases being heard by an employment judge alone.

More IT to be deployed

Use of the MyHMCTS platform was extended to four pilot tribunal offices last year.  The platform is already in use in other jurisdictions, and when fully rolled out will allow all parties access to an online portal to file ET1s and ET3s, make applications and upload hearing bundles.

Until recently the platform had limited functionality in the pilot offices, but this is likely to change in the coming months.

A reliable electronic platform would give a significant boost to the efficient processing of employment tribunal claims. It is hoped that the Government will continue to invest sufficient funds in the roll-out phase to make this a reality.

Could fees be on the way?

The possibility of fees returning to the employment tribunal has attracted considerable publicity.

The Government's proposal would involve a fee of £55 for initiating most claims in the employment tribunal (though some applications would not attract a fee). The same fee would apply for initiating an appeal in the Employment Appeal Tribunal.  Unlike last time round, there will be no additional hearing fees. The proposals are explored in a consultation which runs until 25 March.

This new fee regime would be much more modest that its predecessor, which had to be unwound when the Supreme Court found it unlawful in 2017.  Indeed, many have pointed out the sums it would raise would be hardly worth the administrative burden it would put on tribunal staff. In any event, even if the Government takes the decision to go ahead, it is uncertain whether there will be sufficient time to make the necessary legal and other arrangements before the next general election.

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