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Underhill suggests methods to streamline employment tribunals process

Mr Justice Underhill has presented his findings from his review of the employment tribunal rules to the Government making a number of recommendations that aim to streamline the process, improve understanding and cut costs.

These include an early paper sift meaning weak cases submitted that should not proceed are managed more effectively. This will ensure that employment judges are considering the file earlier in the process, and dismissing any claims where there is no arguable complaint or response.

Underhill suggested combining separate case management discussions and pre hearing reviews.

This will ensure there is one consideration of the claim prior to a hearing, known as a preliminary hearing which may aid a quicker resolution for some disputes. He recommended 'Presidential guidance', which would seek to give all parties in a dispute a much better idea of what to expect from the Tribunal process and equally, what is expected of them.

This will help parties consider alternatives to resolving their disputes outside of the tribunal process, such as independent mediation. In addition, the guidance will seek to ensure that employment judges across the tribunal service are managing cases in a consistent manner, providing clarity to all parties. Finally he put forward a change to the withdrawals process meaning when one party ends the dispute at tribunal the other does not have to signal their intention to end the claim.

At the moment when a claimant decides that they no longer wish to pursue a case against their employer, the case will not be closed until the employer has made an official application.

When presenting his review, Mr Justice Underhill underlined the fact that while the fundamentals of a fair procedure for employment tribunals had not changed, it was important that judges had the legal framework to manage cases robustly, and in the most sensible manner for all parties involved.

Employment relations rinister Norman Lamb said: "We have already announced a host of measures trying to simplify tribunals and make sure that when workplace disputes happen, employers and employees try to find other ways to resolve their problems. However, it is only sensible as well that we look at the rules when both parties set foot inside the tribunal and make it simpler for both parties involved.

"Mr Justice Underhill has made a number of sensible, well thought of recommendations which we will consider. I thank him and his working group for their work. We will announce our intentions in due course."

EEF, the manufacturers' organisation welcomed the recommendation.

Tim Thomas, head of employment policy at EEF, said: "The tone and direction of travel adopted by Mr Justice Underhill are to be welcomed. EEF has long called for reform of the Tribunal process, such as removing weak claims earlier, progressing claims without delay and encouraging Judges to use their existing powers more robustly, particularly on costs.

"The draft new rules are shorter and expressed in plain English, with an emphasis on robust case management and greater emphasis on early settlement. We particularly welcome the initiative to ensure that claims with no reasonable prospect of success are identified early and dealt with in a way, which minimises the expense to employers. The government now needs to respond quickly and positively."

The recommendations will now be put into a full consultation process. As part of its Crush Complexity Campaign, last month HR magazine asked a selection of HR directors what their own agenda for change in employment tribunals would be. Read their thoughts here.

The review of employment tribunal rules is part of a comprehensive examination of employment law which is designed to improve the flexibility of the UK workforce, making a vital contribution to the Government's growth strategy.