House of Lords
Baroness Wilcox (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Business, Innovation and Skills; Conservative)
In November 2011, Mr Justice Underhill, outgoing president of the Employment Appeals Tribunal was asked by Government to lead a fundamental review of the rules of procedure for employment tribunals. I am publishing Mr Justice Underhill's recommendations ahead of a formal consultation exercise on their implementation, particularly given its interest to members of the committee scrutinising the Employment and Regulatory Reform Bill currently before Parliament, and placing copies in the Libraries of the House.
Mr Justice Underhill was asked to carry out a fundamental review of the rules of procedure for employment tribunals following the Government's response to the Resolving Workplace Disputes consultation in November 2011. This was in response to feedback from stakeholders that the existing rules were overly elaborate and poorly drafted as a result of piecemeal change over recent years. Employers, particularly smaller businesses told us that a fear of employment tribunals was affecting their decision to take on new staff. Mr Justice Underhill was therefore tasked with ensuring the rules were simplified and provided the framework to manage cases flexibly, efficiently, proportionately and where possible, consistently, providing certainty to all parties who participate in the employment tribunal process.
I would like to thank Mr Justice Underhill for the time both he and his working group have given to this important piece of work. He has cut the length of the legislation by more than half, and has simplified the language substantially. He has suggested a number of significant changes that he believes should bring about a better functioning employment tribunal system.
His procedural changes include: new rules on the way that weak cases that should not proceed are managed; a new rule to provide for a lead case mechanism in multiple case or where cases raise the same point of law, which brings employment tribunals in line with other types of tribunals; a combining of the separate case management discussion and pre-hearing reviews into a single preliminary hearing; and simpler procedures to conclude claims that are withdrawn. The combined effect of these recommendations should be quicker disposal of cases, and an overall legislative framework that is simpler for all parties to understand.
Mr Justice Underhill's new rules also give employment tribunals a more formal role in promoting alternative forms of dispute resolution. He has also proposed a greater role for presidential guidance, designed to give all parties involved a better idea of what to expect at an employment tribunal, and what is expected of them, while also promoting consistent case handling by employment judges.
We intend to launch an eight-week consultation on the substance of these changes later in the year, before bringing forward amended rules for consideration by both Houses.