Employment tribunals continue digitally during Covid-19 pandemic
Anyone involved in Employment Tribunal cases should be aware that, under the procedural rules which govern Tribunals, the overriding objective is to enable the Tribunal to deal with cases fairly and justly. This is set out in the Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2013.
How are Tribunal claims being processed during the pandemic?
Although from our own discussions with clients it seems the general assumption is that, like the courts, the Tribunals are not operating during the pandemic, this isn’t the case. They are continuing to operate and their offices remain open to process and progress claims.
Claims should continue to be submitted on-line as normal. There will be no automatic extensions to time limits due to Coronavirus-related delays, although individual applications to extend time can be considered as in the usual way. However, there will be inevitable delays in the process due, for example, to reduced admin staff levels and Judges working from home. All face to face hearings are currently suspended but these have been replaced with telephone-based Case Management discussions with the parties to decide how existing cases should proceed.
Case Management hearings can be undertaken by phone
In order to give effect to the overriding objective during the Covid-19 pandemic, Tribunals have been given guidance about dealing with the restrictions which will impact on how cases can be dealt with practically and realistically. Where all parties have legal representation Case Management hearings have for some time been conducted by telephone conference call, with the agreement of the parties and the Tribunal. Hearings have usually only taken place face-to-face if either of the parties involved are not legally represented.
During the pandemic all of these hearings for the time being will be conducted by telephone, provided this meets the overriding objective.
Next steps can be undertaken by video conference
Tribunals will be considering whether and in what circumstances judicial mediations, preliminary hearings and full hearings can proceed effectively and fairly by being dealt with remotely utilising video link technology. At Case Management discussions parties will be asked to discuss whether they are interested in and able to participate in this type of hearing, to avoid the matter being delayed indefinitely as a result of the pandemic.
In making this decision a number of important issues are considered, including:
Does the Tribunal concerned have access to the necessary technology?
Do the parties and their representatives have access to the necessary technology?
If the Judge (and panel members if relevant) and the parties are not present in their offices can all parties have simultaneous access to the case documents and papers, either hard copy or electronic?
Will representatives be able to consult privately with clients during the case?
Will all parties be able to understand and fully participate in the hearing?
Will parties be in a suitable environment where there will be no distractions or disturbances?
What alternatives are there if the suggested method of remote hearing is not possible or practical?
Is the only practical option in a case to delay until it is possible for face to face hearings to resume?
Above all, is it in accordance with the overriding objective to hold a hearing by remote means?
Often the progression of the case using video conferencing will be feasible but inevitably there will be exceptions. Tribunals are treading unknown territory during the pandemic as we all are, however there is an imperative on Tribunals to ensure that as far as reasonably possible the wheels of justice continue to turn so there’s definitely hope. There’s no doubt of course that a high level of co-operation between all parties and the Tribunals will be necessary to make sure the process works, and only retrospectively will we be able to tell how effective this has proven to be.
If you need representation to help you to pursue a matter through the Tribunal during the pandemic, get in touch with Citizens Advice for free advice on the best way to achieve this or go to their website here. You can also contact Society Matters cic employment law service for information about our fair and affordable fixed fee tribunals service.