The government yesterday began laying the ground for the online resolution of certain employment disputes, in the first sector-specific example of plans to transform the justice system.
It also set out greater uses of case officers among other recommendations of Lord Justice Briggs that are being adopted.
A consultation paper was issued yesterday jointly by the Ministry of Justice and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in the wake of September’s vision statement on justice reform issued by the Lord Chancellor and senior judiciary.
In their introduction to the consultation, justice minister Oliver Heald QC and small business minister Margot James said that while tribunals were designed to be more accessible and informal than the courts to enable users to prepare and present their cases without legal representation, they “have not kept pace with changes in society or, in particular, with the way that users want and need to interact with our systems”.
Digitisation was at the heart of the proposals. Although around 90% of employment tribunal claims were lodged online – making it more advanced than most tribunals – once a claim was received, it must still be printed off and thereafter processed in the same way as if submitted on paper.
“This is a considerable waste of resources. Managing a claim electronically would be quicker and more efficient, providing a better service to users of the system, and better value for both users and the government.
“The reform programme specifically aims to increase the digitisation of process as a means of making the system more accessible, simple and cost-effective. This is about sharing essential information faster and safely leading to swifter resolution facilitated through a common digital portal.”
Where processes in a case could be automated, they would be, the government said, but there were also “wider opportunities”.
“Some cases might be suitable for online decisions. There has been significant comment on this issue as raised by Lord Justice Briggs in his review into the civil courts, and concerns about whether that would be appropriate in the context of the type of claims currently heard in employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
“For example, some legal representative groups said in their response to the interim Briggs report that whilst some simple wage claims might be suitable for alternative approaches, complex claims such as discrimination would be wholly unsuitable for online determinations.
“The government agrees with this view. The government is, therefore, keen to ensure that the operation of employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal is sufficiently flexible to allow this where it is proportionate and appropriate.”
Other proposals were to delegate “a broad range of routine tasks from judges to caseworkers”, allowing judges to focus on those matters where their legal expertise and knowledge was needed; tailoring the composition of tribunal panels to the needs of the case; and “removing any unnecessary restrictions on how a particular type of case must be determined – this is about ensuring that simple cases can be resolved by simple methods”.
It would include allowing users “to engage with the tribunal at times and locations most convenient to them”.
The consultation said it also wanted to bring procedural matters for employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal into line with all other tribunals, and so would transfer responsibility for procedural rules to the Tribunal Procedure Committee.