Reforms to the Employment Tribunal System

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  • Topic: Employment Tribunal, Tribunal, Law
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EMPLOYMENT LAW AND rELATIONS|
Reforms to the Employment Tribunal System|
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Reuben Guma|
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1. Introduction
Employment relations are riddled with disputes that stem from breaches of trust between employer and employee. Consequently, there is a growing need to address them, and for most employment disputes, the process starts in Employment Tribunals (ETs) which according to Saridakis, et al., (2008) are independent judicial bodies that determine disputes between employers and employees over employment rights. The Employment tribunal system as part of the legal system, works alongside the ordinary courts and was intended to hear employment disputes as a quicker and cheaper alternative to the ordinary court system. However, over the years there have been concerns that ETs have not met this objective since they are now overburdened by the number of claims presented to them annually. For instance, a total of 218,100 claims where presented to the ET during 2010-11, a 44% increase on 2008-09 (Annual Tribunals Statistics, 2011). Subsequently, government has constantly amended the regulations that govern tribunals in a bid to make them as efficient as they were meant to be. It is against this backdrop therefore, that this report seeks to critically examine the effectiveness of these reforms on tribunals and to consider whether the changes have delivered their most clamoured goal. 2. Historical Background

Formerly called Industrial Tribunals, ETs were formed under Section 12 of the Industrial Training Act 1964 to hear Appeals by employers against training levy assessments imposed upon them (Taylor & Emir, 2009; Gibbons,2007). And according to MacMillan (1999), their authority was extended to hear disputes under the Redundancy Payments Act 1965. And as a result of the Industrial Relations Act 1971, the first case for unfair dismissal was heard in 1971(Moving Forward, 2002; Narins, 2008). Since then, due to the constant development of employment law ( Honeyball, 2010; Taylor,2000; Sargeant & Lewis, 2010), they now embrace a wide variety of statutory claims including unfair dismissal, discrimination in employment and redundancy (Hunt, 2005). Apart from statutory claims, by virtue of the Employment Tribunals Extension of Jurisdiction (England and Wales) Order 1994 No. 1623 (Gibbons, 2007), employment tribunals can also hear contractual disputes and make awards of up £25,000 (Taylor & Emir, 2009; Frase v Hlmad Ltd 2006). 3. Tribunal Hierarchy

ETs have the status of inferior courts (Hunt, 2005) and appeals against their decisions are to the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) and hear appeals only on point of law (Keenan, 2006). Its decisions are binding upon tribunals and therefore create precedents for them. Yet, the EAT’s decisions do not apply to later hearings (Maclntyre, 2008). Appeals from the EAT are to the Court of Appeal and the final stage in the appeal process is the House of Lords. However, appeals in certain cases containing some element of European law interpretation (for instance equal pay and sex discrimination claims); will be forwarded to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) (Hunt, 2005). 4. Composition of Employment Tribunals

Tribunals comprise of a panel of three: an Employment Judge (Chairman) and two lay members. The Employment Judge, who must be a barrister of at least seven years is there to advice the lay members on matters of the law, its application to the cases before them, and also makes decisions after hearings (Hunt, 2005). One of the lay members is drawn from organisations representing employers, notably the Confederation of British Industry and the other from employees organisations - usually the Trade Unions Congress (Taylor & Emir, 2009). Unlike Judges who are appointed on the basis of their legal expertise, lay members are selected based on their specialised knowledge in commerce and industry which Judges may lack (Honeyball, 2010; Hunt, 2005). However,...
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