Employment Tribunal Hearings: Urgent Update
We have received the following Presidential Direction which applies to all Tribunal proceedings in England & Wales and in Scotland:
"In view of the rapidly changing circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Presidents of the Employment Tribunals in England & Wales and in Scotland have directed that from Monday 23 March 2020 all in-person hearings (hearings where the parties are expected to be in attendance at a tribunal hearing centre) will be converted to a case management hearing by telephone or other electronic means which will take place (unless parties are advised otherwise) on the first day allocated for the hearing. This will provide an opportunity to discuss how best to proceed in the light of the Presidential Guidance dated 18 March 2020, unless in the individual case the President, a Regional Employment Judge or the Vice-President directs otherwise. If the case is set down for more than one day then parties should proceed on the basis that the remainder of the days fixed have been cancelled. For the avoidance of doubt, this direction also applies to any hearing that is already in progress on Monday 23 March 2020 and, if not already addressed before then, the parties may assume that the hearing on that day is converted to a case management hearing of the kind referred to above. The parties remain free to make any application to the Tribunal at any time."
This is perhaps not unexpected, but will have a significant impact on parties who were preparing for forthcoming hearings and inevitable delay in the determination of cases. The case management discussion will no doubt involve careful consideration of how progress of ET cases might be made in light of the current pandemic in line with the following guidance issued by the Presidents of the ETs in England, Wales in Scotland which explains how ET procedure may be modified in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
In this guidance, the ET is urging all parties to cooperate and assist the Tribunal in these unprecedented times, particularly by using the existing ability under the ET Rules of Procedure to deal with all types of hearing through electronic means (telephone or video conference). This includes full hearings which will be open to the public (and therefore measures would need to be taken to ensure members of the public could dial in/see witnesses etc.).
It should, however, be borne in mind that from a resourcing point of view, not all ET hearing centres will be set up with equipment to accommodate hearings by electronic means and some parties may not be able to attend through those means either. So while in theory these things are possible, they may not be feasible at least in the short term.
The Tribunals are clearly mindful of doing what they can to protect staff, parties to proceedings and all other users of the Tribunal system, so our sense is that where sensible and feasible suggestions are made by parties to the Tribunal in terms of the conduct of proceedings, these will be accommodated.
Please be assured that we will keep you fully updated on any further guidance issued by the Tribunals and that for any cases we are handling for your organisation, we will consult with you on what these changes mean for you on a practical level.
If you have any questions, please just give your usual key contact in the Employment Team a call or drop us an email.
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