As the UK opens up again after the COVID-19 lockdown, many public services will face dealing with substantial backlogs.
For the already under pressure employment tribunal system, it’s yet another major problem.
The system has been under significant strain since 2017 when the Supreme Court judged that fees introduced to bring employment tribunals were unlawful.
Fees to bring a case of discrimination were as high as £1,200, deterring low-paid and part-time workers from seeking redress through the employment courts.
The introduction of the fees in 2013 saw a large drop in the number of cases being brought, meaning that fewer staff and employment tribunal judges were needed,
When the fees were eventually scrapped, there was a significant increase in the number of cases. However, the number of staff and judges in the service still hasn’t caught up with demand.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, there were lengthy waiting lists. Now, as the court processes re-open, that situation is set to get even worse.
One employment lawyer recently reported that a client was told the earliest date for a hearing of claims was March 2022, almost two years away.
The increased workload feeds right through the employment dispute system, including delays to cases which go to ACAS for arbitration.
What is the UK government doing about this?
There are reports that the Ministry of Justice is now considering re-introducing fees, possibly by using primary legislation in the House of Commons thanks to its 80-seat majority.
The Times newspaper reported that its journalists had seen correspondence between officials in Whitehall and the Law Commission which asked the commission for recommendations on “creating a coherent system for charging and updating fees in the future”.
Some legal sources say fees could be re-introduced within 24 months.
However, moves to do so will face significant opposition from opposition MPs and unions, including Unison which brought and won the case in the Supreme Court in 2017.
How could you or your client avoid these delays?
One of the best ways to get a claim settled quickly is to take it to mediation.
This service allows both parties to be heard before an independent, impartial mediator.
A qualified mediator will facilitate negotiations and help parties reach a decision with which both are happy.
Mediation tends to take a few weeks, by comparison with the months or even years a tribunal could take.
It can be carried out in person or online and it also helps you to avoid expensive court costs.
It’s also a far more effective route to success than a tribunal.
Just 14% of claims get to a full tribunal and only 7% of them are successful for the claimant.
Mediation has a far better success rate. There is a generally accepted figure that 75% of claims which go to mediation reach a successful conclusion.
It can also help heal the divisions between the parties or identify training needs within an organisation.
How do you choose the right mediator?
Look for a professional mediator who has a successful track record of helping parties reach an agreement.
Our mediator, Andrew Brenton, is accredited by Align Mediation and has an in-depth knowledge of employment law.
It’s also worth asking your mediator if they carry out mediation both in person and remotely online.
You can choose to have online sessions and even sign your agreement online, something which is particularly useful for people who are shielding or social distancing because of COVID-19 or those who would struggle to find the time to travel to sessions.