To help to deal with a heavy caseload, and to continue to take advantage of technology used to good effect during lockdowns, the Presidents of the Employment Tribunals in England and Wales and in Scotland have recently issued a new ‘road map’ for employment tribunal proceedings in the 2021/22 period. Some significant points include:
- New tribunal software will be fully rolled out to all regions by the end of May 2021, making it easier for files to be accessed remotely
- New ‘Legal Officers’ will start work and will be able to exercise basic case management powers
- A new ‘virtual region’ will be introduced which will allow enable judges, members and staff who are geographically dispersed to come together on the Cloud Video Platform to hear cases from any region. This will sit alongside the existing geographical regions.
The roadmap also sets out the default arrangements for the listing of new cases. The majority of hearings will continue to be conducted remotely, including the following:
- preliminary hearings listed in private for case management purposes will default to telephone or video
- preliminary hearings in public to determine a preliminary issue (e.g. time limits, employment status) will default to video
- preliminary hearings to consider an application to strike out or for a deposit order will default to video
- applications for interim relief will default to video
- judicial mediations will default to telephone or video
- final hearings of short track claims (unpaid wages, notice, holiday pay, redundancy pay etc) will default to video
- final hearings of standard track claims (unfair dismissal) will vary. In most parts of the country, an increase in in-person hearings is anticipated in due course. However, in London and the South East where the backlog is greatest, cases will still default to video
- final hearings of open track claims (discrimination and whistleblowing) will also vary. In most parts of the country they will default to in-person hearings, but parties can express a contrary view at the case management stage. In London and the South East there will be greater reliance on video format, including hybrid hearings.
- applications for reconsideration or costs/expenses will default to video.
In every case it will still be open to an employment judge to decide that the default position should not apply, and the parties can also write to the employment tribunal to explain why they would like the hearing to be held using a different format.
The Presidents expressed a view that, in general, justice is best experienced in a face-to-face environment. However, given the increase in caseload (which began before the pandemic) video hearings will remain essential for at least two years.
For anyone who missed our recent webinar on virtual hearings it can be viewed here