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Employment tribunals

The government has outlined plans to streamline the employment tribunal system, including powers to get rid of cases which it considers have very little chance of success.

The measures follow a review into the system aiming to encourage settlements at an earlier stage and discouraging weaker claims. It is part of wider measures aimed at tightening up the system, encouraging greater consistency throughout the country.

Changes

1.    Last April for instance, new rules came into force which dictated that witness statements would be read in advance by the tribunal rather than being read out aloud by the appropriate witness.
2.    One key change will be a “pause” at the beginning of a case for talks to take place to try and reach a settlement.

One of the main problems identified within the tribunal system is that in most cases compensation payouts to the claimant are relatively low, at an average of about £5,000 but the cost to the employer is far higher, through the expense of defending the claim, while the burden placed on the system is also too high. Therefore, it is felt that anything which tries to reduce the time and cost of the procedure and tries to make more efficient use of the court’s time is encouraged.

Figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills estimate that each case that goes to a tribunal - and there were 186,000 of them between April 2011 and March 2012 - costs the taxpayer almost £2,000, with the average cost to the employer being closer to £4,000.

New proposals

1.    A “paper sift” stage after the claim has been received by the tribunal. This will enable the judge to look at the papers in the case and decide, before hearing all the evidence, in what way to proceed. They will then either make directions or, if they believe there is no realistic prospect of the claim succeeding, consider whether it should be struck out.
2.    The existing stages of case management discussion and pre-hearing review will be combined into one preliminary hearing to reduce the number of times the case will come before the tribunal. It is hoped this will also speed up the process and enable the tribunal to deal with cases more efficiently. It will also allow the courts to consider carefully the issues in the case at an earlier stage.
3.    Many claims are now made on a “scattergun” basis alleging a number of different breaches to try and succeed in a claim. Therefore, the government hopes that striking out weak claims or asking for a separate deposit to be paid for each part of a claim will have a positive effect in terms of time and cost.
4.    The new proposals will also change the way cases are disposed of after settlement. The current situation sees firms having to apply for a decision that a case is dismissed, but this will no longer have to be the case, though tribunals will have the power to reopen claims in exceptional circumstances.