Over the last few years, there have been a number of key changes in employment tribunal (ET) procedure. The most notable of these have probably been the introduction of ET fees (in July 2013) and the mandatory early conciliation process (in April/May 2014).

More change is afoot with the recent announcement that ET decisions will be published on an online database from early 2017, and there is current consultation about further changes….

Online ET decisions

Currently, anyone wanting to search or browse ET decisions must travel to Bury St Edmunds (to view English and Welsh decisions) or to Glasgow (for Scottish decisions). You can also order copies of specific decisions by post on payment of a fee.

Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decisions and Court of Appeal decisions on employment law are already available online, so the ETs are lagging behind.

HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) announced earlier this year that ET judgments would be available in an online, searchable database from autumn 2016.

The aim of this initiative appears to be greater access to justice, as allowing people to see how ETs have decided previous cases may assist parties in bringing or defending claims. In addition, it may encourage parties to settle their disputes, rather than face potential bad publicity.

Autumn has come and gone, and there is no sign of the online register yet! However, the National User Group (for ETs) confirmed in October that ET judgments will be available to search online from early 2017. They also confirmed that only new judgments will be published (presumably due to the time and cost involved in uploading previous judgments).

Until the new system goes live, written ET decisions will still be available at Glasgow and Bury St Edmunds, and we believe that past ET decisions may remain available in those locations even after the online system is up and running.

Consultation on further changes

In September 2016, the Lord Chief Justice published a statement setting out his intentions to transform the justice system, including “digitising” the claims process and delegating routine tasks from judges to caseworkers. These proposals are intended to apply to all courts and tribunals managed by HMCTS, including ETs and the EAT.

The government has since begun a consultation which considers how these general reforms should apply to employment tribunals and the EAT specifically.

In terms of “digitisation”, approximately 90% of ET claims are already submitted online, but they are then dealt with on paper after that. The consultation is looking at:

• dealing with all correspondence electronically; and

• whether some cases might be suitable for online decision-making - whilst this may be possible for simple wage claims, for example, it is unlikely to work for more complex claims such as discrimination.

In terms of delegating judicial functions, the government is proposing to delegate case management/administration functions to relevant staff in ETs and the EAT.

Responses are due by 20 January 2017, and they will then need to be considered, but change may follow…

What does this mean for you or your business?

Any changes to ET procedure may not impact that much on your business. However, the new online database might.

If you face an ET claim which is decided at a Tribunal hearing after the online database has been introduced, the public will easily be able to find out the outcome by simply searching the database.