Cutting a long story short: Reform of witness evidence in the Business & Property Courts
For those who think Regional Employment Judges (REJ) do not like holding Employment Tribunal User Group meetings, they should have been a fly on the wall at the meeting in Watford on 24 October 2013.
The meeting was chaired by REJ Vivienne Gay. The room was packed to the rafters (well, that may be a slight exaggeration, but every single chair was taken, including having members somewhat gingerly having to place themselves upon the chairs normally reserved for the Employment Judge and the two wing members).
We heard at first from the new Delivery Manager, Jack Reynolds, who had been in post since the beginning of October. He took us through some headline statistics. Chief amongst them was the fact that the time to the first hearing (i.e. the KPI of percentages of cases heard within 26 weeks) have improved dramatically at Watford. When REJ Gay first arrived in the region, these percentages were down to the 40s. They are now at 73% for the year to date, a remarkable improvement.
Secondly, the percentage of cases where promulgation (i.e. the decision) had been made in less than four weeks is now running at 83% for the year to date. This is a considerable improvement and could only benefit users.
But what was of perhaps the most significant, was the sharp fall in the number of claims being issued. There are no specific statistics currently available, but it did appear that the region was seeing something like 20-25% of the cases issued than before. This may, in part, be because of glitches given that they could not be confident they knew about all of the cases that had come in and passed through the central processing function (CPF) in Leicester. But the stark reality was that the new environment, particularly post introduction of Tribunal fees, may be having an extremely significant effect on the number of cases entering the system. There was much discussion about why that may be. One of the major reasons could well be down to the fact that the fee could be proportionately a big part of a low value claim, such as for holiday pay, failure to pay notice pay etc. There was considerable confusion as to how these fees will affect the dynamics in such cases for a number of reasons. The remission system was complicated. Unions were taking different views as to whether or not they would advance the Tribunal fee for their members (and on what conditions). We do not know whether legal expenses insurers are going to cover tribunal fees in addition to the cost of hiring a solicitor. We will know more in a few months’ time, although it is clear the position will be yet further tested once Early Conciliation is introduced next April. If anyone is any doubt as to the uncertainty caused by the new environment, the discussion last night will have brought it home to them.
REJ Gay then took time and trouble to answer each one of 14 questions that had been presented to her in writing by a lawyer acting for one of the Central London Boroughs. The questions required a considerable familiarity with the new rule book, for which REJ Gay is to be commended.
We did not finish until 7pm, having started promptly at 4.30pm. I suspect it will have been one of the longest User Group meetings to have taken place for some time. REJ Gay ended by saying how much she had enjoyed the meeting and valued the points that had been raised.
What a refreshing attitude to have taken. I know this is something that has been replicated in other regions around the country and if users and the judiciary can work together in this way, this can only be a good thing for everyone concerned.
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