Following a consultation on amendments to the procedure for seeking a postponement of a tribunal hearing, the government has announced that the parties will be limited to two applications in the same case, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

This is despite the fact that, of the 33 responses received, 55 per cent said that it was not appropriate to parties to tribunal proceedings to two successful postponement applications, while only 39 per cent answered that it was. A further 6 per cent did not answer the question.

Coincidentally perhaps, the majority of respondents who supported the proposal were made by business and/or business representatives on the basis that placing a limit on the number of postponements could potentially reduce time wasted and costs.

Those not in favour were comprised mainly of claimant representative groups or individuals. The majority of these (89 per cent) thought the changes were unnecessary, with 59 per cent of them pointing out that existing rules and case management guidelines meant that tribunal judges could already decide whether to grant a postponement or not, based on the facts of the case.

The government also decided that:

  • Any application for a postponement presented less than seven days before the date of the relevant hearing or at the hearing itself will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.
  • Tribunals must consider the imposition of a costs order or a preparation time order against a party that is granted a late postponement. A late postponement is one which is applied for less than seven days before the hearing.

Iain Birrell of Thompsons Solicitors commented “This consultation has always been an attempt to solve a problem which didn’t exist by the government. The tribunal’s measured approach and adherence to the overriding objective has ensured that there has never been an overly-inflated amount of postponements in Employment Tribunal cases.

“This proposed change is likely to cause injustice however; as we stated in our response to the consultation last year, you cannot set a ‘one size fits all’ approach to these cases as small, wages claims are very different to large, multiple claimant cases. Similarly the assessment as to whether an adjournment is appropriate is substantive, not numerical. The unnecessary changes the government wants to make will restrict judicial discretion and could cause real injustice in the system to all parties.”

To read the consultation response, go to: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/499533/bis-16-21-employment-tribunal-government-response.pdf