Sir Ernest Ryder, Senior President of the Tribunals, published his strategy for the modernisation of tribunals in November 2018. He has followed this up with an Innovation Plan for tribunal reform in 2019-20, which is due to be implemented by May next year.
While the proposals cover all of the various tribunals, some of them will be of particular interest to users of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) and the employment tribunal (ET). They include the Employment Tribunal project (core case data and common capabilities). This will introduce a standard case management platform with core case data to replace existing case records and files. The objective is to give judges, panel members and users access to a digital case record and provide judges with the facility to case manage online. The system is being built in-house and is due to be introduced this year. Core case data will be accessible to parties through a user interface. Judges will be able to progress and manage cases digitally and record outcomes on the digital file. At the judge's direction, case officers will also be able to carry out functions on the digital file. A library of relevant templates will be integrated with the system so that orders, notices, standard letters and documents can be produced.
More general developments that will benefit users of the ET and EAT include:
- The hearing room presentation project, which will identify the digital evidence presentation needs and live video hearing needs in each tribunal
- Available equipment will be matched to the needs that are identified so that digital evidence can be viewed in hearings. Work has started on this project in the Birmingham ET
- Upper tribunal and EAT project, which will provide a new end to end case management and electronic filing system. The EAT will move on to this system between January and March 2020. From that point, users will be able to file documents electronically
- All tribunals (digital recording) – all hearings in the tribunals will be digitally recorded through the provision of small, portable, digital recording devices. This will provide an independent record, which can be transcribed if necessary. A pilot is currently taking place in the Cardiff ET
- Development of a scheduling and listing service to book judges and help with electronic listing
- The appointment of authorised officers to assist judges, including in relation to case supervision and triage.
Two guiding principles will provide some good news for users. First, the report states that modernisation will be jurisdiction specific, meaning that all reforms will be tailored to the type of cases dealt with by that tribunal. Secondly, tribunal accommodation must not be inferior to that provided for the courts, so that modernisation should improve working conditions.
While the above developments will help to bring the tribunal system into the 21st century, they will do little to solve the day-to-day problems faced by ET users: a combination of a large increase in claims since the abolition of ET fees and a reduction in the number of administrative staff has led to huge delays in dealing with correspondence and the listing of hearings. New salaried judges have now been appointed and a recruitment exercise for wing members is being carried out, which will gradually ease the burden. However, to date there has been no noticeable improvement and cases are being listed well into 2020. In addition, the Employment Tribunal Service will no doubt have its fingers crossed that it will be immune from the various IT disasters that have plagued other parts of the public sector.