The government is consulting on proposed reforms to employment tribunals in England and Wales.

Digitising the claims process

The government is keen for more of the tribunal process to be dealt with online – even in some cases a decision being made online. It asks what issues should be considered when deciding which claims should be considered online.

Delegating tasks from judges to caseworkers

The plan is to allow certain procedural decisions to be made by caseworkers rather than judges. Although the actual decisions have not been listed, it could include whether an appeal has been submitted in time, whether a party can amend a document, or whether a case should be sisted (or stayed). The intention is that parties will be able to ask a judge to reconsider a decision they are unhappy with.

Tribunal panels – non-legal members

Currently, employment judges can sit alone to hear some claims, including unfair dismissal (although they can convene a panel with additional non-legal members if they consider that the case merits it).

More complex cases, such as those involving discrimination, will always be heard by a panel consisting of a judge and two non-legal members. However, the government believes that using non-legal members for these cases as a matter of course is not appropriate or sustainable. It believes they should only be deployed where circumstances require it and their expertise is relevant.

The government wants to allow the Senior President of Tribunals to make decisions on panel composition.

Reform of tribunal structure

The consultation confirms that the government is not planning radical change of the employment tribunal structure in England and Wales.

There had been discussion about employment tribunals coming under the wing of the civil courts (perhaps as an ‘Employment and Equalities Court’) or moving into the ‘Tribunal Structure’ alongside other tribunals. In Lord Justice Briggs’ report into the civil court structure he noted that there was no significant support for leaving the employment tribunal in its ‘state of current isolation’.

However, for now, employment tribunals will remain separate from the courts and other tribunals. The government’s view is that maintaining the current structural arrangements for employment tribunals will ensure that the familiar, understood and trusted brand remains.

That said, power to make tribunal rules is to be transferred to the independent Tribunal Procedure Committee (rather than a government minister or the Lord Chancellor as is currently the case). Representatives from the employment sector will be appointed to the committee. It is envisaged that this will allow a common approach on procedural matters across different tribunals where appropriate.

Scotland

Power over the administration and management of tribunals is due to be transferred to Scotland. Discussions are continuing as to the tribunal structure in Scotland post-transfer, and we’ll provide updates on this via our blog, or our Workbox users can keep an eye on developments via our ‘What’s New?’ page.

How to respond

Responses to the consultation are due by 20 January 2017 (according to the document itself) although the website cites 21 January as the final date – safest to go with the earlier date if you intend to respond!