Employment lawyers say courts urgently need larger budgets and more staff to deal with rising caseloads. Employment tribunal fees were introduced in 2013 in an aim to reduce the number of weak or vexatious cases in the court system. However, the Supreme Court ruled the fees to be illegal in 2017 forcing the government to abolish them.
GQ/Littler recently carried out an analysis which showed that there were 23,700 outstanding cases in the system from July to September 2018, representing an increase of 77% on the same period in 2017. The research based on HM Courts & Tribunal Service’s (HMCTS) records also found tribunals received 36,900 single claims in the year ending September 2018 an 88% increase from 19,600 the year before.
Not only has there been a dramatic increase in cases but the number of staff employed by HMCTS according to GQ/Littler has fallen by 17% from the point that fees were introduced in 2013. In October 2018 HMCTS employed 15,990 staff down from 19,200 in July 2013 with staff costs being cut from £41.2 million to £38.5 million over the same period.
Sophie Vanhegan, a partner at GQ/Littler said:
“It is not just judges that are important to the smooth running of tribunals. Administrative staff are also essential to keep cases moving through the system”.
“At present tribunals do not have the resources to function properly and it is businesses that are suffering.”
Of course backlogs can cause problems for businesses and individuals who face uncertainty for months or even years over the outcome of a complaint. Samantha Clark, a senior associate at Irwin Mitchell, stated that the delays were becoming a relevant factor for both employers and employees alike in whether to fight or settle claims.
“You have to consider that you could be waiting for another year, so there is a big push to put money in the direction of settling now,” Clark said.
To try to clear the overload there has been a rush to bring in part-time judges. The Ministry of Justice said it spent £6,616,525 on part-time employment tribunal judges in 2017-18, up by 71% on the previous year, as recruitment of full-time judges has lagged.
GQ/Littler’s research has shown that the average waiting time from a claim being received and heard was 207 days in 2017-18. Although there is a drive for more judges to be appointed Raoul Parekh a partner at GQ/Littler said that hiring more judges “will not help reduce the backlog in complex cases such as discrimination.”