By Daniel Hunter

The CBI is today (Thursday) calling on the Government to embark on a programme of wholesale culture-change of the employment tribunals system.

Its proposals include strengthening the role of judges to shorten hearings by discounting irrelevant evidence, and giving the Department for Business responsibility for administering the system instead of the Ministry of Justice.

With Government figures out today showing a relentless rise in the backlog of claims waiting to be heard despite lower volumes overall, and the average claim taking around 18 months to process, the UK’s leading business group says delays caused by the system are leading to poor justice for employees with valid claims, and soaring costs for businesses.

In The Right Balance — Delivering effective employment tribunals, the CBI says the Government has set in motion a series of valuable but piecemeal reforms, some of which have become bogged-down in the system. Tribunals need to be re-focussed on speedy and informal dispute resolution by tackling the root of the problem - that tribunals have become too much like courts, which was never their role.

“The processes of the High Court do not belong in an employment tribunal, but the current system prioritises legal formalities over speedy and effective dispute resolution," Katja Hall, CBI Chief Policy Director, said.

“Despite a falling number of claims, the system is still taking too long to process them, as it has been for years. This is why tribunal reform is businesses’ main priority for change in employment law.

“Delays in the system prevent valid claims getting swift justice and lead to soaring costs for businesses, whether they win or lose.

“We need wholesale culture change throughout the system, and that needs to start at the top with judges playing a greater role in questioning, discounting irrelevant evidence, and focussing on the facts at the heart of disputes.

“Bringing responsibility for the tribunal system under one roof in the Department for Business will make the system more coherent, user-focussed and less adversarial. It will mean that the system refocuses on serving its customers - employers and employees.”

The CBI is also calling for league tables to be published showing the performance of individual tribunal offices to make them more accountable, and for the Government to accelerate its review of non-payment of tribunal awards to ensure the system is fair and transparent.

The report highlights the challenges that businesses using the tribunals system are facing.

One said: “My lawyer advises me that it will be £4,000 more expensive to fight this claim than it would be to settle it, but our former employee has already been bragging to other workers that they’ll get a pay-off. For the first time we’ll have to go to tribunal, because if we don’t it will give the impression to others that bringing a claim is an easy way to earn a bit extra when leaving the business.”

Another commented: “Despite doing much of the legal work in-house we incur £5,000-£10,000 costs every time a claim is made against us to get far enough to have it struck out.”

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