Uncertainty hangs over the future of employment tribunals in the Ministry of Justice's plan for streamlined and largely digital courts announced today.
The ministry said tribunals were originally introduced to provide a proportionate and easy-to-use service, mainly for citizens appealing decisions of the state.
However, over time, 'they have become complicated and slow to deal with, burdened with paper and unnecessary bureaucracy’.
The ministry’s Transforming our justice system document states: 'They work on similar principles to many other tribunals and the civil courts, but currently have an entirely separate structure, including a specific appeals tribunal.
'We are considering whether the new approaches being adopted elsewhere in the justice system could be applied to the employment jurisdiction.’
Around 83,000 claims were dealt with by employment tribunals in 2015-16.
The document states that many ‘relatively straightforward’ tribunal decisions do not require full physical hearings.
In such cases, judges will make a decision based on written representations, hearings will be held over the phone or via video conferencing, and specially trained case officers will help cases progress through the system.
The social security and child support tribunal meanwhile will be moved entirely online.
Tribunal panels could also be simplified. The ministry says using multiple panel members in the unified tribunals currently costs taxpayers around £21m a year in fees, with daily fees for each member ranging from £200-£500, plus additional costs for travel and subsistence, training, appraisal and general administration.
The ministry proposes to have a single member on the tribunal panel in the first-tier tribunal, unless otherwise determined by the senior president of tribunals.
Where specialist expertise or knowledge is required, a pool of specialist experts could be deployed across various chambers and jurisdictions, answering specific queries from judges or helping people work through the process.