Tribunal Changes Help or Cost savers?
The government has announced a series of changes to the tribunal system with effect from April. They have been presented as a more efficient way of running tribunals and attempting to remedy some concerns raised but are they really cost saving exercise? I shall briefly analyse all of them and let you have my opinion feel free to reply or add your own comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Unfair dismissal qualifying period increases to 2 years. Those of you who are my age and can remember Spurs wining things will know this is not the 1st time qualifying periods have been amended. This will apply only to new starters after April 6th and only applies to unfair dismissal claims. The real effect won’t be known for at least 1 year and almost certainly will increase, as claimants seek other ways to bring forward their claims, discrimination and whistleblowing claims which need no qualifying period.
2. Judges to sit alone in unfair dismissal cases. Judges already sit alone for case management and some other relatively straightforward claims. This will save money but will leave everything in the hands of a member of the legal profession who normally has led a cloistered life and has never had to meet payroll or represent staff to management. Personally I think is adverse to both claimants and employers as the common sense aspects of tribunals will be removed. It can and will be overcome by attaching an unfair dismissal claim to a discrimination claim where the ‘wing members’ requirement will still remain.
3.Witness statements taken as read. This is a good idea currently being piloted in Bristol. It will save time and no doubt relieve boredom some witness statements really have to be heard to be believed. However undoubtedly advisers will spend more time with witnesses before hearings to make sure that the statements are prepared exactly as required. Employer’s advisers may be at a disadvantage as sometimes the tone and manner of the witness reading the statement may signpost fruitful area for cross examination
4. Deposit Orders to be increased up to £1000. Deposit orders are made by Judges if they think the case is weak and to deter claimants from pursuing it. It will help employers as it will reduce the number of frivolous claims but as they are extremely sparingly awarded the effect will be imperceptible.
5. Costs Orders to be increased to £20000. This is really similar to 4 above costs are seldom awarded and then only if they claimant can be shown to be frivolous and or vexatious it may deter some claimant’s as no doubt the employer’s advisors will let the claimant know about the risks in the run up to the hearing and some may be deterred from pursuing their claim. As both 4 and 5 will be subject to some form of means test it is likely that any claimant who can show they are on jobseeker’s allowance will be able to walk away from this.
6 Witness Expenses The state will no longer provide these, the winning side will be invited to seek recovery from the losers again unlikely if it is a losing claimant on jobseeksers.
There are more changes expected in 2013 following a review by the Employment Appeals tribunal president they will include
- Greater role for mediation
- Early conciliation by ACAS
- Fees for bringing claims
- Financial penalties for unsuccessful employers (in addition to awards made by tribunals)
The details are still to be worked out but given that the Tribunal system cost £84 million a year to run and some tribunals like East London have effectively run out of money this year there is no doubt the government will pursue zealously any cost saving or potential cost savings the review throws even perhaps at the expense of their suitability and effect they have on the system as a whole.