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Presidential road map for employment tribunals (April 2021 – March 2022)
Every year the President of the Employment Tribunals of England and Wales provides an update on what users of Employment Tribunals can expect for the upcoming year. This year was a chance to take stock of what worked well, and perhaps not so well, following the new working methods that we all needed to adapt to during the Covid-19 pandemic. This year’s road map proposes new, and we expect more efficient, ways of working to tackle the Tribunals’ outstanding caseload and waiting times whilst also disposing of employment cases fairly.
a. The way forward for video hearings
The pandemic has acted as an accelerator for many sectors and this is also true for Tribunals. Before March 2020, the default position was that all hearings should be held in person. During the pandemic, this shifted to an exclusively remote way of dealing with claims. Although remote work will still be a significant part of the way in which Tribunals operate going forward, it was decided that there will be a mix of both in person and remote hearings. This is expected to be the way forward for at least the next two years. Hearings will be divided into three categories: short track claims (unpaid wages, notice, holiday pay, redundancy pay etc), standard track claims (unfair dismissal) and open track claims (discrimination and whistleblowing). Short track and standard track claims will default to a remote (video) hearing, and open track claims will default to an in-person hearing. However, parties will be allowed to apply to the tribunal for a different approach, and in any case it will be open to an Employment Judge to decide whether or not the default position should apply.
b. A new ‘virtual’ employment tribunal region
As the Employment tribunal backlog reached a ten year high earlier this year, it was decided that a new virtual region should be created in an attempt to tackle this. Employment cases are usually heard by an Employment Judge in the specific region the claim is brought in. Going forwards, this virtual employment tribunal region will hear cases from different regions and will also be populated by Employment Judges from different regions. We understand that the cases heard in this virtual region will initially mostly be from London and the South East of England as they are the two regions most affected by the backlog.
c. New case management software
Employment Case Management (‘ECM’) will replace the current case management system. It is expected that a full migration to the new system will be complete by the end of May 2021. It is also expected that the new system will be more reliable and will be accessible remotely for Tribunal staff.
d. Legal Officers
There will also be a newly created position within the Employment Tribunal system called a Legal Officer. There are currently 16 new officers due to start work in mid-April 2021 to carry out a number of functions previously exclusively carried out by Employment Judges. These powers could vary from rejecting an ET1 claims to working on various applications such as: extension of time for presenting the ET3, case management orders, postponement, confirmation of stay, and whether or not to dismiss a claim following its withdrawal. Once the powers are finalised, it will be the case that a party has 14 days from receiving decision from a Legal Officer to ask for an Employment Judge to review.