Following a statement by senior law officials in September about “transforming” the justice system, the government last week launched a consultation document containing proposals for reforming the employment tribunal system.
Given that one of the aims is to reduce the costs of the tribunal system to taxpayers, it is not surprising that the government is proposing to delegate a broad range of “routine tasks” from employment judges to caseworkers. The rationale is that it will speed up the resolution of cases because it will allow judges to focus more on the areas where their specific legal expertise and knowledge is needed.
The consultation specifically asks potential respondents what factors should be taken into consideration when scoping out the judicial functions to be delegated in employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal. It also asks whether there are any specialist skills that an employment tribunal caseworker might need that would be different from other tribunals where the system is already up and running.
In addition, the document proposes tailoring the composition of tribunal panels so that panel members without legal expertise are asked to sit on panels according to their expertise and the needs of the case. The aim is that this expertise will be available across a wider range of cases, so that claimants can be confident that decisions will be fair and informed. It will also, according to the government, speed up the resolution of disputes allowing individuals to have swifter closure.
The consultation paper also proposes removing any “unnecessary restrictions” on how a particular case must be determined so that “simple cases can be resolved by simple methods”, again with the aim of speeding up the resolution of disputes. Finally, it proposes digitising the whole claims process so that claims can be made and processed online, allowing users to engage with the tribunal at times and locations convenient to them.
Neil Todd, of Thompsons Solicitors, added; “There are undoubtedly ways in which the Tribunal system could be reformed to make it work more effectively. However, our concern about the proposed reforms is that they are more driven by a desire to save costs than a wish to modernise the system.
The government has indicated that one of its intentions with these reforms is to make justice more accessible. It is difficult to treat such an assertion as genuine from a government who introduced employment tribunal fees which, on any analysis, has placed a significant barrier on individuals seeking access justice.
The devil will be in the detail but it is absolutely imperative that individuals can have faith in the fact their cases are being dealt with justly and this principal needs to be ahead of all other concerns.”
The deadline for responding to the consultation is 20 January 2017.