The Senior President of Tribunals has published his Annual Report for 2015 for all tribunals in Great Britain including the Employment Tribunals and Employment Appeals Tribunal. The tribunals are separate in England & Wales, and Scotland but the Presidents in each jurisdiction formed a broad consensus about the difficulties caused by the implementation of the new tribunal rules and fees regime which resulted in software problems and confusion for users. However, this has now settled down and there is a feeling that the new rules are providing greater flexibility, simpler language, and more judicial discretion.
In both jurisdictions, there was a surge in applications prior to the fees regime coming into effect at the end of July 2013. In Scotland there was, correspondingly, a significant decline in the number of cases received in August 2013, compared to the year before and in September 2013 the number of cases received was roughly one seventh of the number received in September 2012.
The report for England and Wales states that full hearings have become more lengthy and complex than in previous years, with many smaller claims being resolved at case management stage. Both England & Wales and Scotland reported that the number of single claims was similar to the previous year.
Interestingly, judicial mediations are on the rise, possibly due to the quicker and more informal forum. In England &Wales, there is a reported success rate of over 70% and in Scotland it is 77%. It is estimated that this saved approximately 90 hearing days in Scotland. Despite this, the Scottish President is uncertain that the current level of enthusiasm for judicial mediation will continue due to the introduction of a £600 fee for this service.
Meanwhile, the President of the EAT, Mr Justice Langstaff, says that it is difficult to predict the long-term effect of the introduction of fees. Prior to the fees regime coming into effect there was a trend towards an increase in appeals. However, since April 2013, the number of appeals lodged is down by a third. He noted that a greater proportion of appellants are not professionally represented and that appeals are likely to become increasingly complex and litigants in person more numerous.
From all three reports, the key concern appears to be the effect of funding on resources, and the resulting service offered to the public, as well as any knock-on effect on staff morale. In his report for England and Wales, David Latham predicts a “difficult and evolving future for employment tribunals”. This is a view that is sure to be shared by tribunal users.