Following the introduction of tribunal fees 18 months ago, the Employment Committee of the Law Society for England and Wales has invited contributions to its proposals for reform of the employment tribunal system.

It has identified a significant number of changes that have impacted on the way tribunals now function compared to when they were created in 1971. In particular, the dramatic fall in the number of claims following the introduction of fees in 2013 and the mandatory requirement to go through early conciliation before lodging a claim. Major cuts to public funding including a 25 per cent reduction to the Ministry of Justice budget during this parliamentary term have severely limited workers access to justice.

The Employment Committee’s consultation recognises the need to review and reform the tribunal system, stating that “People need an employment law system that allows everyone to protect their rights, one that provides a straightforward system of access to justice”.

The consultation poses a number of questions about alternative dispute resolution, such as can early conciliation be improved? Or should there be other types of alternative dispute resolution to resolve employment disputes, as part of a wider consideration as to whether tribunals should become more “flexible” in how they handle disputes.

Employment tribunals are unique and are separate from the civil court system. The consultation considers whether civil litigation principles such as a costs regime and early disclosure should be applied as well as reform of fees. Furthermore, it considers if a different system should apply for more complex cases such as referring these straight to the employment appeal tribunal.

In broad terms, it suggests that there could be very simple procedures for handling unpaid wages claims, slightly more sophisticated procedures for unfair dismissal, and more sophisticated procedures for handling discrimination. The consultation is also interested in proposals for wider employment law reform.

Jo Seery of Thompsons Solicitors commented: “The consultation is a welcome opportunity to ensure that employment rights and workers’ access to justice remains high on the agenda in the run up to the general election.”

The consultation closes on 20 February 2015. The Law Society will publish an interim report by the end of March, followed by the full report in June.

To read the consultation paper in full, go to: http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/policy-campaigns/articles/employment-tribunal-consultation/