Presidential guidance issued last week on tribunal proceedings in light of the Covid-19 pandemic has today been updated. Last week it was announced that there will be no in-person employment tribunal hearings as of Monday 23 March. Today’s amendment states that the conversion of in-person hearings to case management hearings applies to all hearings which are set to commence on or before Friday 26 June 2020. If you have an in-person hearing listed to commence on or after Monday 29th June 2020, that hearing will remain listed to proceed for the time being. This will inevitably be subject to further directions from the tribunal service as the situation develops.
All in-person hearings of employment tribunal cases, ongoing and new, across the UK will be converted to case management telephone hearings or will be held by other electronic means. These hearings will allow for open discussion on how best to proceed with cases in light of Covid-19. If a hearing is set down for more than one day, parties should proceed on the basis that the remainder of the hearing dates after the first have been cancelled.
Parties remain free to make any application to the tribunal at any time in the usual way.
The guidance aims to combat some of the issues that employment tribunals and parties will face due to the pandemic. Guidance is provided on:
- how rules should be exercised;
- what information should be given to parties about steps the tribunal may take;
- encouraging the use of electronic communication, specifically that a hearing should be conducted by electronic means where possible provided it is just and equitable to do so. This could be beneficial to parties who no longer have to worry about travel and physically interacting with individuals and may allow for hearings to be conducted more expeditiously; and
- allowing tribunals which would ordinarily be heard by a panel of 3 to be heard by one judge and one lay member, or a judge alone where consent of the parties is obtained.
It is recognised that some tribunals do not have some facilities available to them such as video conferencing and also recognises that some hard documents cannot be converted to a digital format. Tribunals are merely guided by this, they are not bound but parties are encouraged to be flexible under the circumstances.
Sensibly, the Tribunal Presidents have left it open for the guidance to be regularly reviewed and updated and in particular will review the guidance on 29th April 2020 and 29th May 2020 in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal is now closed until 15th April 2020 with no telephone hearings taking place before then.