Releasing the Pressure on Tribunals

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Last year the Government said that it wanted to find ways of relieving the pressure on Employment Tribunals.

Mr Justice Underhill has revealed his findings from his review on the Tribunal process and ways in which to reduce the pressures and cut costs.

One suggestion was to sift out the weaker cases earlier on in the process. This involves having a judge view the file at an earlier stage and deciding whether or not they feel it should carry on. There was also a suggestion for pre hearing reviews and case management meetings to be held at the same time. This might help to ensure that applicants have a clearer idea of the process and perhaps the merits of their case. This more informed view might lead to them deciding to settle out of court at an earlier stage than otherwise.

A Presidential Guidance was also suggested. The aim being to ensure that the parties fully understand the process and know both what to expect from it and what is in turn expected of them. The idea is that the parties might then wish to consider the alternatives to tribunal again earlier on in the process than they might otherwise. This would save both time and costs. Alternatives such as mediation have had pilot projects themselves in a bid to help make them a more attractive avenue compared to going to a tribunal. There was also a suggestion to amend the process of withdrawing a claim. The report suggests no wait between when an employee withdraws a claim and the other side signalling their intention to also end the claim. As it stands, an employer must signal their intention to close the case by making an official application. This is yet more administration and lengthens the process whilst also increasing costs.

Mr Justice Underhill was careful to stress that cases would still be dealt with fairly but he hoped that the suggested changes would give judges increased power to handle case loads more robustly. There needs to be an ability to use common sense if the workload is to be reduced. Employment Relations Minister Norman Lamb said "we have already announced a host of measures trying to simplify tribunals and make sure that when workplace disputes happen, employers and employees try to find other ways to resolve their problems. However, it is only sensible as well that we look at the rules when both parties set foot inside the tribunal and make it simpler for both parties involved." He added that the suggestions were well thought out and sensible and an announcement as to any changes would be announced in due course.