Tribunals in cash plea as workload increases

Employment lawyers are demanding the Treasury urgently increase funding to employment tribunals after the release of a government report that predicts a big jump in cases.

Employment lawyers sector say action is needed to ensure they can cope with a raft of new employment legislation.

In its annual report, government watchdog the Council on Tribunals – headed by former Labour minister Lord Archer of Sandwell – says European working time rules, the impending minimum wage and whistleblower laws will bring an increase of at least 6,000 employment tribunal cases this year – a rise of seven per cent.

In the report, Archer admits tribunals face “an increasing workload without any corresponding increase in resources”. The report adds: “We believe that cases are likely to be complex and will be vigorously contested.”

While employment lawyers have long voiced concerns that tribunals are under-resourced, they are now predicting “one of the busiest years of the decade”. Paul Goulding, chairman of the Employment Lawyers Association, says: “As a minimum there's quite a potential for increased cases and it's necessary in these circumstances that more resources should be given.”

The pending Fairness at Work Bill is also expected to mean longer cases with larger sums of compensation being paid out.

“Employees will have an incentive to fight and employers won't be able to settle on the same kind of terms,” Goulding adds.

A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry says tribunal staff plan to put the report before the Treasury and argue for more resources in the new financial year.

Employment lawyers have also raised concerns about the quality of tribunal judges, who will have faced the pressure of a higher workload. One leading practitioner, who condemns most tribunal judges as “drongos”, says the quality and quantity of tribunal staff must be addressed.