What will 2017 hold for the beleaguered employment tribunal system? A Government consultation, which closes this month, suggests that modernisation is almost certainly on the cards. The consultation document promises to simplify current systems and processes, making them ‘just, proportionate and accessible’. The document states that, while employment tribunals were always intended to be more informal than other forums, they have not kept pace with changes in society or the ways in which users want to interact with the system.
Key proposals include bringing the claims process fully online (a lofty ambition considering that many employment tribunals do not yet have working Wi-Fi) and speeding up process times by delegating some administrative decisions to tribunal staff rather than Judges. The consultation also suggests that the composition of the Employment Tribunal panel should be tailored to the needs of the case, with non-legal lay members only being brought in where their experience is directly relevant to the issues at stake.
Meanwhile, the employment law world is still waiting for the outcome of the Ministry of Justice’s ‘post-implementation review’ of the employment tribunal fee regime. In mid-2016, the Justice Committee of the House of Commons concluded that fees were having significant adverse impact on access to justice for meritorious claims, and recommended a number of steps to mitigate this, including a reduction in fees or the introduction of a more nuanced system. It remains to be seen to what extent the outcome of the Ministry of Justice review, expected ‘in due course’, will tackle these issues. With the UNISON legal challenge to employment tribunal fees set to be heard by the Supreme Court in late March 2017, this controversial issue is set to take centre-stage for another year.
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