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Judges parachuted in to help employment tribunal backlog

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Scully: Boosting capacity

Deploying non-employment judges into employment tribunals (ETs) and more remote hearings are part of a package of measures announced by the government yesterday to help the system cope with the high level of demand.

There is a backlog of more than 45,000 cases in ETs – having increased by a quarter during the pandemic – and the government said the reforms would assist them in ensuring the “speedier delivery of justice”.

According to Chris Millward [2], head of claims at legal expenses insurer ARAG, some longer hearings are already being listed for 2022.

Non-employment judges will be deployed if certain criteria on suitability are met, while the rules will be changed to allow “more flexibility” over virtual hearings.

Other reforms include allowing legal officers to carry out administrative tasks currently performed by judges, “refining” the early conciliation and employment tribunal rules to allow greater flexibility in handling minor errors, and changing the rules to allow multiple claimants and respondents to use the same forms where reasonable, to avoid multiple certificates and time limits in what is essentially the same dispute.

The measures for the employment tribunal rules, use of legal officers and cross-deployment of judges will come into force on 8 October, with the measures on early conciliation following on 1 December.

Business minister Paul Scully said: “The employment tribunal system has held up very well in the face of an increased caseload and the impacts of Covid-19 – but these changes will boost its capacity further.”

Earlier this week, the president of the ET, Judge Barry Clarke, issued guidance on remote and in-person hearings [3], and on remote hearings and open justice [4].

Last week, meanwhile, the Senior President of Tribunals, Sir Keith Lindblom, issued a practice statement [5] authorising “appropriately trained” tribunal caseworkers in the First-tier Tribunal property chamber to carry out functions of a judicial nature.