Our employment rights team is witnessing a worrying backlog of tribunal cases in a system that is buckling under pressure
Rakesh Patel, Client Relations and Talent Director, comments:
It is no secret that the judicial system is buckling under the pressure of an increasing number of tribunal cases waiting to be heard, with a backlog of more than 40,000 unsettled cases. While these figures are concerning enough in their own right, anecdotal evidence suggests there is a postcode lottery at play, which only heightens the cause for concern.
An audit of cases being presented by Thompsons for clients across the UK highlights a situation not only worsening due to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19), but also showing that, depending where a claim is lodged, it could result in a difference of up to 12 months in the time taken for a case to be heard.
A disability discrimination case lodged in December 2018, for example, was listed for seven days in March 2020. Postponed due to lockdown, our employment rights team is still chasing Birmingham Employment Tribunal and waiting for new hearing dates almost seven months later.
The situation is reaching critical levels, is untenable and cannot be allowed to continue. What we are seeing makes a mockery of a system designed to help those who have been wronged in the workplace.
Rakesh Patel Client Relations and Talent Director at Thompsons Solicitors
In Watford a constructive dismissal and disability discrimination case lodged by Thompsons on 2 November 2019 has its full hearing listed more than two years later in December 2021.
Also in Watford, three clients awaiting a hearing for unfair dismissal and age discrimination claims are facing more than a two-year wait. It was initially lodged in November and December 2019 and has its full hearing listed for April/May 2022.
Contrastingly, in areas such as Manchester and Leeds, the situation is less acute. While we are seeing a delay in processing ET3s and applications of up to 10-12 weeks after issue, hearings are coming through in the more reasonable timeframe of six months.
The delays are so huge that claimants in some parts of the country are questioning whether the dates given are a typo.
When the Law Commission completed its 18-month consultation process in April this year, 23 recommendations were made to increase the power of tribunals covering everything from raising the time limit on making claims to upping a tribunal’s power to be able to award an enhanced level of damages.
Many of the reforms are long overdue, but even if they are implemented their impact is going to be neutralised by the fact that tribunals are being delayed by two years or more.
Without a system that can process claims within a reasonable period of time, the recommendations are merely words on paper.
The very real human impact of these delays is increased stress for our clients while their claim and their working lives remain in limbo.
The situation is reaching critical levels, is untenable and cannot be allowed to continue. What we are seeing makes a mockery of a system designed to help those who have been wronged in the workplace. If there is no improvement, those who have been wronged by their employers will continue to be wronged again by the system that is meant to provide a resolution.