Tribunals: Employment

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform written question – answered on 18th February 2008.

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Photo of Chris McCafferty Chris McCafferty Labour, Calder Valley

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what recent assessment he has made of the role of lay members on employment tribunals; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Employment Relations and Postal Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

holding answer 7 February 2008

The Government acknowledge the valuable and important contribution which lay members make to the tribunal system. This was reaffirmed through responses to the Government consultation 'Resolving disputes in the workplace' which issued in March 2007 and closed on 20 June 2007. Most respondents commented that the tripartite structure of the tribunal was a real strength which aided decision-making in cases where considerations of context and reasonableness were important.

There was also support in the consultation for employment judges to sit alone in determining cases involving issues of a purely legal nature and in straightforward monetary cases, where the practical experience of the workplace that lay members bring to the tribunal's deliberations is of less relevance. Additionally, over 70 per cent. of respondents to the consultation supported the introduction of a new, swift approach to dealing with straightforward claims, where cases could be determined by an employment judge, with the consent of the parties, on the basis of the papers.

Responding to these findings in the consultation process, the Government proposes to develop further the good practice which already exists within the tribunals by establishing a fast-track system for dealing with simple monetary claims. The fast-track system will involve five jurisdictions where claims potentially raise straightforward issues and therefore potentially could be determined without the need for a tribunal hearing. The jurisdictions considered suitable for the fast track are:

unlawful deductions from wages breach of contract redundancy pay holiday pay the national minimum wage

Claims falling within these jurisdictions that are combined with other jurisdictions outside the list will not be eligible for a fast-track determination.

The Government envisage that employment judges will make an early analysis of claims falling within these jurisdictions and form a view as to whether the case is suitable for (a) determination based on the documents, or (b) whether the issues raised are more suitable for a hearing, and if the latter, whether lay members need to be present. Where a case falls into category (a) the employment judge will write to the parties informing them that in his or her opinion the case could be determined on the basis of documents, but advising the parties that they have a right to a hearing. If the parties are content for the case to be determined without a hearing, a written determination will be made. If one of the parties requests a hearing, the case will be heard either by an employment judge sitting alone or before a full tribunal. Where complex issues are raised, the case would be heard by a three-member tribunal.

The fast-track potentially benefits both parties by enabling them to resolve straightforward issues quickly and efficiently, reducing unnecessary burdens on the parties' time and, where they agree to a determination without a hearing, saving them from costs associated with attendance at or representation at tribunal hearings.

The Government remain committed to the tripartite nature of tribunals and recognise the important role which lay members play. Provisions in the Employment Bill will not impact on these valuable and trusted arrangements other than as outlined above.

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