Employment tribunals are being forced to rush in part-time judges in order to try to clear the growing backlog of cases waiting to be heard, a specialist law firm has claimed.
But GQ Littler said that, without more full-time judges, the backlog in complex cases would persist.
Information obtained from the Ministry of Justice revealed that the payroll for part-time employment tribunal judges 71% to £6.6m in the year to 31 March 2019, up from £3.9m in 2016/17, which the firm said was because recruitment of full-time tribunal judges has lagged behind demand.
There were 1,181 part-time judges, compared to just 80 full-time salaried judges. A recruitment exercise which closed last month aims to appoint a further 50.
Further, the solicitors said the backlog of outstanding cases rose 53% in the fourth quarter of 2018 to 25,600, up from 16,800 in the same period in 2017. They attributed this to the abolition of fees in July 2017, after the Supreme Court ruled they were unlawful.
The average waiting time between a claim being received and heard reached 207 days in 2017/18, the firm added.
Raoul Parekh, a partner at GQ Littler, said hiring more part-time judges was unlikely to address the lengthy delays that many cases experience, as they usually dealt with case management and shorter hearings.
“The recruitment programme for more full-time judges is welcome, but should have started more quickly: the rise in demand was obvious as soon as tribunal fees were declared unlawful by the Supreme Court in 2017.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice paid out around £17m in refunds for employment tribunal fees in the first year of the scheme.
A letter from permanent secretary Richard Heaton to Bob Neill MP, chair of the justice select committee, said that from the refund scheme’s launch in late 2017 to 31 December 2018, 21,300 refund payments were made.
“We estimate that the value of ET fees that have yet to be reimbursed is c£16m as of 31 December 2018,” he said.