The government should learn lessons from failed attempts to introduce new technology to improve the way employment tribunals work, the Law Society has warned.
Responding to a government consultation on wider court reform in the employment tribunal, Chancery Lane said previous tribunal users have a ‘negative experience’ from attempts to use digital tools to improve how the tribunal works.
The Society said: ‘For example, CaseFlow, an electronic case management system designed for the ET, was scrapped due to spiralling costs of development and an absence of evidence that it would be able to deliver the efficiencies that it promised it would.’
The introduction of tribunal fees has also significantly harmed access to justice, the Society said.
‘The stated purpose of fees for the government was to transfer costs to the user. However, the annual cost of the ET system in 2015-16 was £65.8m, whereas net income from fees was £8.6m.
‘Net fee income has been less in the first two quarters of 2016-17, amounting to £1.97m and £1.99m respectively.’
Highlighting the lack of an online facility for multiple claims, brought on behalf of claimants by solicitors, the Society noted that, in the past, it was permissible to email Excel spreadsheets of multiple claimants, in the format requested by the tribunal.
‘Now, an Excel spreadsheet of claimants is only permitted if it is hand-delivered to the tribunal,’ the Society said. ‘This is not efficient for either the tribunal. Staff would have to input the information contained in the list, which is time-consuming, rather than simply importing the data from the spreadsheet.’
The consultation is unclear on who decides whether a matter should be considered online, the Society said. In the Netherlands, where online legal dispute resolution has existed for a few years, both parties have to agree to proceed online and there is no pressure to do so.
Meanwhile the government’s impact assessment does not consider how the changes will impact on the vulnerable, Chancery Lane added. The assessment does not consider what reasonable adjustments have to be made for disabled parties. It also does not consider how to resolve practical challenges created by the proposed reforms.
The Society said: ‘Many of the buildings within which ETs are situated do not have enough plug sockets for all those who will need to use laptops or tablets. The ability to connect to Wi-Fi is also often non-existent and is essential for parties who wish to call witnesses remotely or conclude COT3 [Acas settlement] agreements.’