In response to the reducing claims in 2014 – 2017, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service gradually reduced employment tribunals’ resources. For instance, no new employment judges have been recruited in the last five years and so no retiring members were replaced. The pool of fee paid judges, working on a part time basis, was also slowly diluted with redirections to the other first tier tribunals, for instance sitting in immigration or tax tribunals. Similarly, administrative staff and resources were reduced or combined with other first tier tribunals. In Newcastle the tribunal relocated and pooled resources with the immigration tribunal in North Shields. Newcastle and Leeds tribunals have now merged and are managed by a single, regional employment judge.
In addition, ACAS has just published its annual report and statistics for 2017 – 2018. This shows an increase of early conciliation notifications from 92,251 (in 2016 – 2017) to 109,364 (2017 – 2018).
As a result of changes to the tribunal service, since July 2017, the sudden increase has caused a backlog in respect of the claims dealt with by the employment tribunal. From a practical point of view, the increase in claims is:
- Causing considerable delays in the tribunal dealing with claims. One of our current claims, listed in Bristol, relates to an employee dismissed in July 2017 and yet the tribunal hearing date is not until January 2019. The days of a six month turnaround are gone!
- There are delays in receiving documentation from the tribunal. This includes orders from the tribunal. For instance, orders and directions are often not being sent out to parties until many weeks after the preliminary hearing, sometime after the first deadlines having already passed. At tribunal user groups the Regional Judges are regularly asking local solicitors and barristers to ‘bear with them’.
In the face of these problems, the Judicial Appointments Commission has just closed a recruitment drive for 54 new full time employment tribunal judges across the country and expects to launch a second for fee paid (part time) judges in 2019. Similarly, given the huge demand for early conciliation with ACAS we understand that ACAS launched a national recruitment drive for advisers and conciliators in early 2018, following a previous period where it made a number of reductions in headcount.