I was fortunate to have attended what turned out to be one of the most interesting meetings of the year. And get this. It was the Employment Tribunal Users meeting at London Central. No really.
First, we were given the warmest of welcomes, notwithstanding the fact that because the Employment Lawyers Association put out the call, we ended up with, what was by all accounts, two or three times the number that normally attend.
Secondly, REJ Potter, chairing the meeting, was enormously straight with us about the real resource problems they are facing this next year. The measures designed to cut down tribunal time (judges sitting alone in unfair dismissal cases, witness statements being taken as read etc) have all happened. The Government is not going to be satisfied with the savings they will produce. Not a bit of it. Resources are going to be even more limited next time.
So REJ Potter shared with us her proposed solutions. These included refusing all requests for hearings in August. She said that in any event these are the times when they encounter the most problems with witnesses proving to be “unavailable”. Better just to say no to hearings in August, and thereby cut out 10% of their hearings in that way. This could be applied to the last 2 weeks of December and even in due course to Easter.
Third, it was explained to us why it is so difficult to predict when judgements will become available. For some of us, used to being given deadlines and periods within which to work, this can sometimes be hard to fathom. But the truth is that the time frame is not all just down to the EJ (and the wing members) on the case. Nothing like it. They can dictate their reasons promptly, but it can take time before they are typed. Then they go back to the EJ for approval, amendments may be required, they need to be completed, and only then is it ready for the Office to put them in a form ready to go out. That is why they work to a basic 28 day period. And they don’t want to take legions of calls from us users asking for progress reports. Fair enough!
The ET in London Central also steadfastly refuses to take calls seeking confirmation that faxes have been received. We had a frank exchange of views on this topic. We only make these calls because our clients are asking us to confirm the position to them! But we were assured in reality the number of times they are NOT properly received is now very small indeed. Which is (sort of) reassuring. Unless time limits are in issue, of course. Although we were told always to favour email, as we will receive the automatic reply.
It was reported to us right at the outset, that the Tribunal was still in the position of losing key staff. That was not good news, particularly as we were also told they were not going to be replaced. But then we were given the good news that in fact, despite all the budgetary pressures, they were doing well on meeting targets. Indeed as an example, ET’s are supposed to ensure 75% of cases are listed within 26 weeks. In fact they were achieving 70%. Apparently this may be the best result nationally.
Quite what Chris Grayling will make of this goodness only knows, but I thought REJ Potter and her 3 colleagues deserve enormous credit and generated a huge amount of goodwill in taking the time and trouble to convene the meeting, welcome us all, and then do us the honour of being open, honest and seemingly entirely frank with us.
I hope that experience is being repeated around the country, for if it is that is very much a positive step forward, in my book!