Online employment tribunals as envisaged by the government's plans for reformed justice would not be suitable for some types of claim and inaccessible to many claimants, employment law specialists have warned. Responding to the government's consultation on reforming the employment tribunal system, the Employment Lawyers Association argues strongly that online hearings should not be mandatory.
'More often than not in employment cases, litigants in person out of necessity need the assistance from the tribunal to pursue their case effectively,' it states. 'An online system would remove that all-important leveller of the playing field and, in so doing, may compromise the fairness of an online system.'
The association believes 'strongly' that an online system must not be compulsory. It notes that some cases, such as unfair dismissal, 'can also require a more nuanced consideration of matters such as reasonableness and fairness' and should be based on live evidence.
Meanwhile, victims of discrimination are more likely to be among the 5% of the adult population with neither access to the internet nor someone who can help them. Poorer people with access to the internet tend to rely on smartphones and tablets, the response says, saying that any online tribunal system must be designed with this in mind.
'Making an online system available but not compulsory, can still achieve savings without excluding potential users,' the response concludes.
On other reform proposals, designed to bring the tribunals system more into line with the courts, the association says it is crucial that the unique nature of the employment tribunals is fully appreciated and properly accommodated. It raises concerns over a proposal to take away the role of the secretary of state for industry in deciding which cases may be heard by a single judge.
'This does seem to us, to mark a significant shift in terms of responsibility.'
It also condemns as 'quite extraordinary' the government's approach to reviewing the impact of employment tribunal fees introduced in July 2013.