Employment tribunal system struggling to cope

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Research from the Employment Lawyers Association (ELA)​ has painted a “bleak picture” of employment tribunal delays

The employment tribunal system is struggling to cope with demand, according to the ELA.

Its survey, which received 387 responses from its members, revealed that three-quarters (75%) of employment lawyers reported that responses to written correspondence or applications in the employment tribunal process are taking longer than a year ago.

Two-thirds (66%) of respondents experienced an increase in the time tribunals are taking to deal with the service of claims, while more than half (51%) reported delays in telephone calls being answered.

However, this presents a slight improvement on the previous year, when 75% reported an increase in time dealing with the service of claims and 53% reported delays in telephone calls being answered.

This research comes after the Ministry of Justice published its latest statistics on employment tribunals last week, showing an overall increase of 8% in the caseload outstanding in the first quarter of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018.

Employment tribunal fees were scrapped by the Supreme Court on 26 July 2017 for being ‘unlawful’.

Commenting on the findings, Shantha David, Unison legal officer and member of the ELA's Working Party on ET Resource, said that delays in the process have a direct impact on access to justice for employees.

“These numbers paint a bleak picture of the country’s employment tribunal system. Almost two years after the abolition of fees why is it that tribunals are still unable to cope?" she asked.

“Of course all of these delays inevitably lead to increased costs for clients – as one respondent put it: it is ‘embarrassing to explain [these delays] to clients and leads to a loss of confidence in the rule of law. What is the point of having employment rights if they cannot be effectively enforced?’ Or as another respondent put it: delays: ‘affect access to justice’.”

The ELA acknowledged that around 50 new employment judges have been recruited, and that another exercise to recruit fee-paid judges is under way.

However, David added that further recruitment of administrative staff to deal with the demand is needed.

“Given this new cohort of employment judges we hope that the problems that relate to the lack of judicial resourcing will now be resolved, and next year’s survey will reveal better results in relation to postponed hearings and delayed judgments," she said.

"However, the survey has also clearly highlighted the severe lack of support at an administrative level that must be looked at. As we pointed out last year, part of the solution has been to include the recruitment of administrative staff to answer tribunal telephones; respond to emails; transfer documents to the correct tribunals; and ensure that applications, especially urgent applications, are put in front of judges.”

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