Next month’s introduction of early conciliation for tribunal claims is the latest in a series of reforms creating a ‘huge change in landscape’ for employment lawyers, the chief executive of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) said this week.

Early conciliation will be available from 6 April and will be compulsory for tribunal claims lodged on or after 6 May. Under the changes, employees will usually be able to bring an employment tribunal claim only if they have referred the issue to Acas.

In an interview with the Gazette, Anne Sharp (pictured) said the reform, when viewed alongside the introduction of tribunal fees, points to ‘a move from adversarial legal process to conciliatory legal process’.

Sharp was previously chief executive of The Judicial Offices and began her civil service career at the Health and Safety Executive, where she worked on risk management policy in industries including railways and nuclear weapons.

Richard Fox, chair of the Employment Lawyers Association and head of Kingsley Napley’s employment department, described the employment reforms as ‘seismic’.

‘I’m not sure everyone has picked up the significance of the changes,’ he said. ‘Mediation was always a possibility, but now it is high up on the agenda.’

Previously, litigation was the starting point for employment lawyers, he added. But he believes Acas will have to ensure early conciliation is a success in the first year in order to get buy-in.

Laurie Anstis, member of the Law Society’s employment law committee, said it was too early to say if employment lawyers will take on more of an advisory role as a result of the changes.

‘No one knows for certain what the impact will be – employment lawyers are feeling their way,’ he said.