The proposals are essentially for the reform of the employment tribunal system. They are contained in an 87 page consultation document and this is a highly condensed summary of the key points.

Mediation

Government would like to encourage greater use of the mediation route which has had limited take up thus far.

Early Conciliation

The proposal is that initially all claims should be submitted to ACAS, rather than the Tribunals Service  for ACAS to offer pre-claim conciliation in all cases

Comment – ACAS are currently involved in all claims anyway. Interest in settlement out of court is often minimal until both sides come to realise the time & cost implications of attending a hearing. 

Weaker Cases

By making the power to strike out claims more flexible, make  deposit orders at any stage and to increase deposit and cost limits from £500 & £10,000 respectively to £1,000 & £20,000 respectively.

Comment – The powers already exist, but are relatively little used. Unless that changes, there will be little real improvement. This may be a throwback to the origins of industrial tribunals as they were when the intention was that neither side needed to be represented. The reality is that they are so entwined in complex legality that few Claimants or Respondents choose to go it alone.

Encouraging Settlements

Provision of Information – a requirement for more information about the nature of the claim as well as as a Schedule of Loss to be given when the claim is lodged.

Formalising offers to settle – this amounts to formalising a process under which if an offer to settle is rejected, the party making the offer might pay that amount into court. If the tribunal then makes a lower award then the party which made the offer may recover its additional costs in going to hearing.

Shortening tribunal hearings

Proposals include

  • Witness statements to be taken as read
  • Withdraw payment of expenses
  • Extend the jurisdictions in which judges can sit alone
  • Use of Legal Officers to deal with case management issues rather than more expensive judges

Comment – Some tribunals already take statement as read where the parties agree. It can be useful however to hear the evidence read out on the day. Withdrawing expenses sounds like cost cutting pure & simple. Expenses are hardly generous anyway, but might be significant to many Claimants.

Other proposals include 

  • Fee charging
  • Increasing qualifying service for unfair dismissal claims to two years.
  • Financial penalties for employers found to have breached rights – to encourage greater compliance

Comments – Charging fees seems like a straightforward deterrent. Better perhaps to charge costs where a claim has been found to be frivolous. In any case, the qualifying period of service has been at one time or another –

  1. a.    Six months
  2. b.    Twelve months – currently
  3. c.     Two years