A survey of members by the Employment Lawyers Association (ELA) has uncovered a tribunal system that is functioning so slowly in many regions that access to justice is seriously under threat.
The study uncovered a catalogue of problems, most notably significant delays in hearings being listed. More than 40 per cent of lawyers said that they had been waiting more than a year for their clients’ cases to come to tribunal.
In addition, almost all those who responded mentioned that they were experiencing major delays in dates being set for final hearings – for instance, over 90 per cent of lawyers said that they were being listed at least six months into the future.
Almost all respondents reported that, when compared with March 2020, tribunals were now taking longer to handle all tasks including answering the phone, dealing with urgent applications and making orders and judgments. Tribunals in London were identified by ELA members as scoring particularly poorly in these respects. In effect, everything was reported as taking longer compared to the pre-pandemic period.
However, a positive note from the past year has been the speed with which lawyers and tribunals adapted to remote hearings. Of those surveyed, almost all reported that they considered remote hearings to be somewhat effective; more than half perceived them as very effective; while over 80 per cent were more likely to consider them fair compared to March 2020.
Despite this one bright spot, respondents to the survey were in no doubt as to the root causes of the general delays and inefficiencies that they were experiencing – chronic understaffing, unavailability of resources and an increase in the volume of work.
The ELA is therefore calling on the Ministry of Justice to urgently invest in more staff and judges to underpin the tribunal system, which after years of under-resourcing, is being brought to its knees by the pandemic.
The survey was carried out in April and May this year. The association received more than 700 responses representing the voice of about 25 per cent of its membership of 6,000 employment lawyers.
Bernie Wentworth, Regional Head of Employment Rights (Western), commented “This merely backs up what we have been saying for years – the system just cannot cope. Some of the dates we are now getting for hearings are as shocking as they are farcical. Meanwhile, the lives of our poor clients are in limbo while their cases are effectively stalled and as we know, justice delayed is justice denied”.
To read the report in full, click here.