BRITAIN'S tribunal system is so overloaded hearings are being held in church halls, portable buildings, pubs and in one case even a tin shack, the Council for Tribunals says.
"When you visit the tribunals, particularly the ones which sit irregularly, you see some peculiar sights," council chair Lord Archer of Sandwell QC told a press conference last week.
"Desks are so small people can't put their papers out properly, and rooms are so poorly designed you can't hear what is being said, or you can, but in the neighbouring room.
"There are tribunals which share high security premises where access is by intercom only, and tribunals which meet in pubs," he said.
Lord Archer said there were no facilities for people with children and access for the disabled was "difficult or degrading".
"We want to make the tribunal system as user-friendly as possible, so if it's not exactly a pleasure, it's no more of a burden than necessary."
Lord Archer said responsibility for tribunal accommodation was spread over 12 government departments. The Council for Tribunals had set up a register of tribunal hearing accommodation to help tackle the problem.
Fraser Younson, vice-chair of the Employment Lawyers' Association, says: "The problem is the sheer volume of cases. The Government has tried to deal with it by appointing new members."
He adds: "I've got one case still waiting to be heard nearly two and a half years since my client was dismissed. I believe it is better to have more cases heard more quickly than holding out for improved accommodation.
"Tribunals are doing their best in a very difficult situation."
Dibb Lupton Broomhead London employment partner Jill Andrew says problems with accommodation are very familiar to solicitors attending tribunals.
"In my biggest case there were so many applicants that we almost ended up sitting
on each other's knees," she comments.
"There has been a phenomenal rise in the caseload of tribunals but no equivalent increase in resources. The result is a system strained to its limits."