Solicitors’ leaders have urged the government to double the time limit for bringing an employment tribunal claim

Urgent action is required to clear the employment tribunal backlog, the Law Society of England and Wales warned as it submitted its response to a government consultation looking at better equipping the employment tribunal.

The Law Society has already said that action must be taken to clear the employment tribunal backlog ahead of an anticipated avalanche of post-COVID claims.

Since employment tribunal fees were abolished in 2017, the number of claims has increased substantially, without the same increase in the resources needed to be able to deliver justice promptly.

The backlog currently stands at just over 40,000 and cases are often listed for hearing more than 12 months from when the request was first made, while more complex claims can take as much as two years to get a judgement, effectively denying access to justice.

As well as a raft of changes proposed to ensure cases can be handled quicker, the government has raised the prospect of extending the time limit to bring a claim from three months to six months.

“We strongly support the idea of raising the time limit for bringing all employment tribunal claims to within six months,” said Simon Davis, president of the Law Society.

“Different limitation periods can often cause confusion, especially when parties are not legally represented. The three-month time limit can also force claimants to file claims even if they are still open to a negotiated settlement.

“Genuine mistakes around limitation can result in individuals being barred from seeking justice in their case.

“This is particularly relevant to unrepresented claimants who may be involved in long internal grievance and disciplinary procedures, and, because, they are not entitled to or cannot afford legal assistance, find that they miss short employment tribunal limitation deadlines.”

Also being considered is allowing non-employment judges to sit in the employment tribunal system to increase capacity.

“The body of employment laws has grown over the years, and it is important that only judges that understand this body of legislation and case law hear claims to ensure that they are decided correctly,” added Simon Davis.

“This will also avoid cases being referred on appeal to the employment appeal tribunal.”

“We will continue to encourage the government to improve the running of employment tribunals and make sure they are properly resourced in order to tackle the expanding backlog of cases.”

Notes to editors

Other consultation proposals include:

  1. widening the scope of the existing multiple claimant rule to allow two or more claimants to make their claim on the same form
  2. allowing a judgement without a hearing to be issued even when a preliminary hearing has taken place
  3. changing the rules around electronic hearings to allow greater flexibility

See our full response

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