Monday 17 February 2020 12:01 am

Judges accused of not using powers to cut employment tribunal backlog

Judges are not exercising their power to dismiss claims early at employment tribunals, despite a growing backlog, a law firm said.

Over the last year, judges did not use their power of early dismissal in any of the 94,330 new cases received by employment tribunals.

Judges have the power to dismiss a claim or a response which they believe has no reasonable prospect of success before it reaches a court hearing.

The backlog of cases increased 39 per cent to 26,664 in the year to 31 March 2019, up from 19,116 the previous year.

The employment tribunal has experienced a major spike in claims since fees were abolished in 2017.

Raoul Parekh, partner at law firm GQ Littler, said: “Why go to the trouble of creating a power, and then not use it? With the backlog of claims ever worsening and limited resources, tribunal judges should use every option to stem the tide.

“The fact that judges are not using their powers to dismiss claims early may reflect their sympathy towards claimants in wanting to give their case a chance rather than dismissing them out of hand. Understandably, judges will not want to restrict access to justice.

“However, the high volume of claims reaching a first hearing is contributing to the worsening backlog. This backlog of cases is prolonging the process for both employees and employers, who are being left in the dark over when their case will be resolved. 

“There is an urgent need to address the lack of resources at tribunals, through new funding for front line judicial staff as well as administrative staff. In the meantime, it is important to find ways of improving efficiency. 

“If the backlog and waiting times continue to grow, employment tribunals will cease to be an effective body for employees or employers.”

A spokesperson for the judiciary said: “Claims that have been struck out where the tribunal has no jurisdiction or where the claim has no reasonable prospect of success can be captured in the statistics in a number of ways. For example a claimant, when receiving notice under rule 27 may withdraw their claim. The fact that these outcomes are not recorded as ‘dismissed under rule 27’ does not signify that judges are not using their powers. Only an approximate 15 per cent of claims within the employment tribunal proceed to a hearing.”

A courts spokesperson said: “We understand that delays can be stressful and have recently recruited 58 additional salaried tribunal judges to tackle this increase. We are continuing to recruit further judges and work with the judiciary to increase capacity and improve performance.”