Employment Tribunals seem to be buckling under the pressure of cut backs on resources and lockdown.
All of us realise the need to approach the dangers of COVID 19 with extreme caution but the end result in Employment Tribunals is bordering on a lack of justice for parties. However, Claimants are finding in particular that they are waiting for their cases to be determined for unacceptable lengths of time. Its not always due to COVID 19.
One case I am dealing with that started in 2018 had already had 2 preliminary hearings, and a postponement of a hearing last year. The reason given was because of “lack of judicial resources” (no available Judges).
The case was then re-listed for a full 4 day Hearing last month. This was converted into a Case Management Discussion lasting for 1 hour, as Tribunals were (quite rightly) not having Hearings in person for COVID reasons. Parties were ready to proceed with a full hearing but could not. The rescheduled Hearing is now listed for May 2021. The end result being the parties will have waited 3 years to get a hearing on the Claim for Disability Discrimination and Unfair Dismissal determined!
The Claimant’s (my client’s) view is this is totally unacceptable, unfair and very frustrating.
In another instance I conducted a 2 day Hearing with a Reserved Judgment (parties to wait to be told result) in January 2020. It is now June and still no Judgment has been issued. Can you image the worry of my Client (Claimant).
In another scenario, I had a default Judgment granted for a Claimant client, which was sent to parties 15th January 2020 and despite calling Tribunal admin offices about once every two weeks we can’t get a date for a Remedy Hearing . The poor client cant get any money he is entitled too.
Many more examples exist and I think Respondents are able to use the situation over the current difficulties to manipulate the system to encourage delays. I have even recently had a Respondent agree to Judicial Mediation, communicate this to Tribunal and then on the day of the Judicial Mediation Hearing just simply say they have changed their mind. Resulting in another case for my Claimant client then being put off to 2021, without any apparent recourse for the Respondent.
On a positive note, I nearly always get a very friendly and well meaning conversation from Tribunal admin staff when I call them. I am extremely appreciative of how difficult it must be for the Tribunal staff to deal with all the agitated parties calling for updates. As civil servants in the ‘firing line’ they are on the whole doing a difficulty job in difficult circumstances very well. I also see that more Employment Judges are being recruited and modern technology is being utilised. Such things as Video Hearings are being implemented to help with the backlog. I hope for the sake of achieving justice at a fair speed, this can be quickly established. Time will tell.