Employment Issues / In the News / Solicitors Journal

Radical reform of Employment Tribunals needed

DSCF8393Last month, the Law Society declared that the employment tribunal system is in urgent need of a complete overhaul. But can the complexity and cost of the current system be resolved?

The Law Society’s new and ‘efficient’ employment tribunal structure proposes that all disputes would be dealt with in a ‘single jurisdiction’ consisting of four levels.  Simple claims, such as unpaid wages, would be dealt with on a paper basis at level one, with more complex cases, such as multi-strand discrimination cases, being heard by an experienced judge at level four.

Law Society president, Jonathan Smithers, said that the proposed system “would be easy for the public to use, as there would be a single entry point, and make sure that cases are dealt with in the most appropriate way’.

Failing the principles of justice

There is little doubt that the current employment tribunal system is failing employers, employees, and principles of justice. The introduction of fees in July 2013 has already proven to impact directly on the most vulnerable workers, including the low paid and those being discriminated against. What’s more, the time, resource, and money that must be committed by an organisation to defend claims, however unfounded, will often see them settle for a smaller financial sum.

The idea of a tiered system has, in part, already been taken into account under the current system, with two fee levels and a move to have judges sitting alone in the majority of hearings. That said, more cost-effective case management for lesser valued claims and those which can be determined without extensive witness evidence should prove to deliver outcomes swiftly and with more certainty. This, I am sure, would be welcomed.

Some of the reduction in tribunal claims can be attributed to the ACAS early conciliation process, which is compulsory for all, would be claimants before a claim is issued (and fee incurred). If other types of ADR are to be considered, much could be learned from the early conciliation service, which has saved many employers time and money and delivered satisfactory results for aggrieved employees.

Although the proposals from the Law Society will now be subject to much scrutiny and no doubt criticism, they are a good starting point for further discussion and debate. Any change must not only be fit for purpose now, but for the changes in working practices forecast in the years to come.

A form of this article appeared in Solicitors Journal on 7 September 2015 and is reproduced here with kind permission

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