How long does an Employment Tribunal case take?
According to the Ministry of Justice, between April 2020 and March 2021 it took an average of 335 days, that’s 48 weeks, for a claim in the Employment Tribunal to reach its first hearing. That first hearing isn’t even, necessarily, when a decision is made by a judge; it could be an administrative hearing or a hearing to make a decision on one small element of a claim. When I qualified as an Employment Solicitor in October 2011, the median average time from the start to finish of a Tribunal claim was 20 weeks and in the same period just before Covid (Oct – Dec 2019), the mean average length of a claim was 36 weeks. The landscape of the Tribunals has changed somewhat in the last 10 years but it’s clear that current delays are significant.
The Employment Tribunals in England, Wales and Scotland are under huge pressure as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic with large backlogs of cases and long delays in some areas of the country. In June 2021 I had a claim that was listed for a hearing in January 2023. This was a case that had started in December 2020. That is a huge delay that has a big impact on those involved and how the case is prepared. Through ongoing preparation and by working with the Tribunal and solicitors for the Claimant we managed to get the hearing brought forward to March 2022.
There are a number of reasons for the backlog and delays. Many Tribunals have had to reduce the number of hearing rooms that are available to accommodate administration staff because of the need for social distancing, some hearing rooms cannot be used as they’re too small for effective social distancing, there’s insufficient ventilation in some tribunal buildings, administration staff are working at half capacity because of available space and there are not enough judges even if a room was available. The Tribunals have implemented Video Hearings in many cases and this has been effective in keeping things moving forward (and are clearly here to stay) but such hearings add other challenges for the conduct of the matter with broken connections, access to video and microphone, providing electronic copies of documents and witness statements and in one instance, a person attending whilst sitting on a train!
There are so many factors when considering the best tactics to deploy in dealing with a Tribunal claim, not least the emotional strain of facing a direct challenge to decisions made and the commercial implications for the business of being the subject of formal court proceedings. With such long waits for claims to be heard it’s important to make proper progress to get the best possible outcome when you finally get in front of a Judge.
Here at Howarths we are experienced in navigating Employment Tribunal procedures and can provide support and representation to ensure the claim is determined with as little stress and distraction from business priorities as possible.
Author: Sarah Edwards, Senior Employment Law Solicitor