New employment practice directions address impact of Covid-19

Three new or revised employment tribunal practice directions have been published in recent weeks, as the system continues to grapple with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Looking beyond its immediate impact, there have also been two new policy-related developments, both of which could shape the future of employment tribunal litigation.

Practice directions

  • Review of March Covid-19 direction: a recent review of the original direction has confirmed that tribunal users should still work on the assumption that hearings due to take place from 29 June onwards will remain listed. However, it does not necessarily follow that hearings listed before that date cannot go ahead remotely in appropriate circumstances.
  • Guidance on vulnerable witnesses and parties: new guidance was issued on 22 April which emphasises the need to identity vulnerability among tribunal users as early as possible. Among other things, this may involve setting “ground rules” before a vulnerable witness gives evidence. The practice direction does not directly address the impact of Covid-19, but notes that it may well have an impact on pre-existing vulnerabilities.
  • Electronic signatures: given that tribunal judges continue to work remotely for the most part, a new practice direction makes the necessary adjustments to the way their decisions are signed.

All three directions can be accessed from the employment tribunal directions home page.

Two other significant developments

  • Rapid consultation by Civil Justice Council: the CJC have launched a rapid response consultation, to run for the first two weeks of May, to look at the impact of the measures adopted so far in the civil justice system in response to Covid-19. It states that the evidence collected by the review “will be invaluable in shaping the way forward for the civil justice system, both immediately and in the longer term”.
  • Law Commission reports on employment law hearing structures: this report makes a total of 22 recommendations which are designed to make enforcement of employment rights more effective. The more radical proposals include extending the time limit for bringing all types of claim in employment tribunals to six months and broadening the scope of their jurisdiction to hear breach of contract claims, including raising the limit on the compensation they can award to £100,000.

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