As part of our look ahead at some of the Government's proposed changes to employment law, we consider planned changes to the Employment Tribunal Service.
There are plans to allow Tribunal Judges to hear unfair dismissal cases alone, without the need for a lay-panel. The majority of Employment Tribunal cases are heard by a Panel of 3 people: someone from an 'employer' background (e.g. CBI, Chamber of Commerce), someone from an 'employee' background (e.g. Trade Union) and a third person who is legally qualified (e.g. solicitor or barrister).
Dispensing with a Panel in unfair dismissal cases is an
interesting development as in theory it will allow 'simple'
cases to be heard quickly. However, the lay-panel often uses their
experience to cut through issues and bring a balanced approach to
This change will not suit all cases, particularly where there is a lot of documentation or complicated facts. It will be interesting to see if the parties are offered a choice between single Judge and Panel hearings and how many single Judge decisions end in appeal. This proposal will be reviewed after a year.
Clients often ask if there is a deterrent to a claimant bringing
a hopeless case against them. The answer may be a deposit order. A
Tribunal can order a claimant (or respondent) to pay a sum of money
into Court if they wish to pursue a case or a defence. Monies have
to be paid before they can take their case/defence any further. The
amount a tribunal can order will increase from £500 to
£1,000. Although this sum may not seem a lot, it may make
some think twice before pursuing their case.
There are also proposed changes which may mean a claimant has to make a payment when they submit a claim form to an Employment Tribunal as is the case with any County Court Application so watch this space!
Another area of contention with the bringing and defending of
claims is the issue of costs awards. Traditionally, in the
Employment Tribunal both parties bear their own costs, win or lose.
This has changed over time with costs order being made in
exceptional circumstances; for example, where either party has
behaved unreasonably during the proceedings.
From April 2012, the maximum amount of costs an employment tribunal can award (without referring the case to the county court for detailed assessment) will increase from £10,000 to £20,000. This is seen as another positive improvement to the Employment Tribunal system and may dissuade some unmeritorious claims.
Giving evidence at an Employment Tribunal can be an
uncomfortable experience for some, often made worse by having to
sit and read before the Court a long and sometimes complicated
witness statement. Now, witness statements will be taken as read in
the Employment Tribunal, unless a judge directs otherwise.
This will no doubt please witnesses; however, it should be remembered that a witness statement is a person's own words and recollection of events and should not be written in 'legal speak'. Witnesses will still be asked questions on the back of their witness statement so they will need to know what is in it!
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.