The ‘Innovation Plan’ for Employment Tribunals and its Knock on Effect for Employers
Recently the Senior President of Tribunals, Sir Ernest Ryder, published his report on The Modernisation of Tribunals 2018 and its implementation plan, called the Innovation Plan for 2019-2020.
Sir Ernest Ryder, along with tribunal judges and appointed judicial panel members have worked on the £1billion tribunal modernisation programme with the aim to; ‘eliminate the most common causes of delay’, ‘ensure justice is accessible’ with systems designed around ‘the people who use them’ and to create a financially viable system ‘using a more cost-effective infrastructure’ that ‘matches supply and demand’ of the tribunals.
Since the abolition of tribunal fees in 2017, the number of employment tribunal claims more than doubled. Despite this, the overarching core principle of the modernisation programme is that ‘access to justice must be improved and not reduced.’
Some of the suggested steps to implement the aims and objectives of the tribunal modernisation programme are detailed below.
Digital case management
A standard digital case management platform was introduced in February 2019 and is gradually being distributed throughout all tribunal jurisdictions. The new ‘robust and reliable’ platform will replace existing case records and files, giving tribunals and its users’ online access to their case. Judges will be able to manage cases online such as recording case progression, access case management activities and provide updates on outcomes. Tribunal users will be able to access their core case information.
From June 2019, the platform will be able to further assist the tribunal with automated document generation via a collection of standard templates of orders, notices, letters and documents. The aim of this is to reduce the manual time required to manage file progression and update claimants.
The new platform will guide users through each step of the tribunal process, signposting for advice and flagging settlement opportunities.
Digital evidence and live video evidence at hearings
Throughout 2019, digital evidence presentation and live video requirements will be provided in all tribunal hearing rooms, allowing live web-based video access to hearings and the digital presentation of documents.
Furthermore, there have been test pilots and various research into hosting completely digital hearings known as ‘fully video hearings’. Users of the service will not be required to physically attend the tribunal hearing, as long as their broadband speed and equipment is of a ‘sufficient quality to enable their appearance without screen freezing or the signal dropping out’.
Similar to the Supreme Court, there are plans for all tribunal hearings to be recorded to facilitate ‘open justice’ and provide records for judges and users.
Recording facilities will be provided throughout 2019 and a pilot of the digital recording is currently taking place in the Cardiff employment tribunal.
Potential knock on effect for employers
As seen following the abolishment of tribunal fees, it is a strong possibility that the above changes will cause an influx of employment claims. For example:
1. The new electronic system should make case management more efficient, reducing delays and allowing users to keep their claim under regular review (without the need to wait in lengthy telephone queues, or days or even weeks for a response to an email).
This may result in less default judgments because of the failure to respond in time due to the requirements of postal deemed service. Additionally, if the tribunal system is not too long and drawn out, it may see claimants remaining enthusiastic and engaged with their claim.
2.The new case management system will signpost various important steps for claimants, highlight the need for further advice and flag various settlement opportunities. Subsequently, this will make the process of issuing and progressing an employment claim easier for the claimant, reducing the need for professional legal advice.
Legal advice and services for a claimant in an employment tribunal claim can cost thousands of pounds. This may have previously acted as a deterrent from bringing a claim against an employer.
3.The introduction of live video evidence and ‘fully video hearings’ will make the employment tribunal much more accessible to claimants who would have otherwise been unable to attend the hearing, due to financial or physical restraints.
The above analysis of the potential knock on effects for employers is only speculative at present. However, it is important that employers are aware that there could be an increase in the number of claims following the implementation of the tribunal modernisation programme. With this in mind, it is advised that before an employer considers dismissing an employee or taking any action, that they consider taking legal advice.
If you would like further information on the tribunals modernisation programme, Sir Ernest Ryder’s report on The Modernisation of Tribunals 2018 can be found here.