In a joint consultation paper issued by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Ministry of Justice, it was said that employment tribunals in England and Wales “have not kept pace with changes in society or, in particular, with the way that users want and need to interact with our systems”.
Digitisation is, not surprisingly, an integral part of this consultation. Much of the proposal is focused around reducing the reliance on paper trails and a shift towards a quicker, more efficient paperless system. While 90% of claims are currently lodged online, the existing system still requires digitally issued claims to be printed before they can be processed.
Although it was acknowledged that employment tribunals are already more accessible and informal than the court system, enabling cases to be brought without any legal representation, they nevertheless remain slow and labour intensive.
This paper follows on from the vision statement released in September 2016 issued by the Lord Chancellor and senior judiciary on matters of justice reform.
The report states:
“The reform programme specifically aims to increase the digitisation of the process as a means of making the system more accessible, simple and cost-effective. This is about sharing essential information faster and safely leading to swifter resolution facilitated through a common digital portal.”
In an earlier review of the civil courts, Lord Justice Briggs suggested that alternative avenues should be explored to make employment dispute cases less convoluted in nature. The review suggested that in the interests of handling cases more swiftly, decisions may even be made online in the future.
While there has been little resistance to this over simple matters such as wage claims, some legal representative groups have warned that in more complex claims such as discrimination, online decisions would be unworkable. And these concerns have not fallen on deaf ears.
In response, the latest consultation paper states:
“The government agrees with this view. The government is, therefore, keen to ensure that the operation of employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal is sufficiently flexible to allow this where it is proportionate and appropriate.”
Alongside proposals for a digitised tribunal process, Lord Justice Briggs’ recommendation for the greater use of case officers is also set to progress. Case workers have been identified as a preferable resource for handling a range of routine tasks, allowing judges to be utilised elsewhere in matters where their extensive legal expertise and knowledge was needed.
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