With the introduction of fees for the first time, and a new set of procedural Rules and administrative procedures all being introduced on the same date, many legal practitioners feared delays in the processing of claims, software errors and confusion for users. Unfortunately, these fears were well founded; however, the problems were compounded by a surge in claims being lodged immediately before the introduction of fees, which took some weeks to be properly entered into the system.
Have the new rules been successful?
The view of the President is that the rules have achieved their aims: they have provided flexibility, simpler language and more judicial discretion. They also impose an obligation on the judiciary to explain why certain procedural steps are being taken. A novel process was incorporated in the rules which allows Presidential Guidance for the benefit of the parties. Two pieces of guidance have already been issued and the President has stated that further guidance in relation to Case Management is imminent.
Impact of fees on claims brought
The introduction of fees has undoubtedly caused difficulties. There have been delays in the processing of claims (and remission applications), and we have heard that many claims lodged several months ago are still caught up in the fees system. The immediate impact was that there was a surge of claims lodged immediately before the implementation of fees and a reduction in the number of claims lodged immediately after; although, it has been reported that the levels of claims are slowly increasing again. The claims which are proceeding to full hearing appear to be those which are complex and lengthy. Likewise the number of claims being appealed to the EAT is down by a third since the introduction of fees.
Time will tell as to the ultimate effect of fees but there is no doubt that the number of changes seen in the last year will substantially change the landscape of Employment law and employment relations.
A change in the nature of dispute resolution
With the introduction of fees last year and the introduction of a new compulsory ACAS Early Conciliation in April 2014, perhaps now the focus in employment disputes is shifting from a claims culture, to individuals and businesses exploring other methods of dispute resolution more reverently than before – for example, mediation. Figures released indicate that judicial mediation has a current success rate of over 70%. We may see more parties seeking alternative dispute methods to resolve their disputes rather than taking cases to an employment tribunal.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.