Employment lawyers wary of knee-jerk move towards Single Employment Court
ELA floats rebranding the Employment Appeals Tribunal to the Equalities and Employment Court
Employment lawyers remain cautious of rushing towards the creation of a Single Employment Court.
Though the idea of a single specialist court for hearing all employment disputes has appeal, the Employment Lawyers Association (ELA), whose 6,000 plus members act for employers and employees, claims it would not be a universal panacea.
Publishing a detailed 42-page report, the ELA has called for a full debate about how employment cases are to be heard in the future.
The ELA has proposed a new three-tier system for dealing with employment cases, with the possibility of making the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) a distinct division of the High Court. It also suggests changing the name of the EAT to the Equalities and Employment Court (EEC).
Richard Fox, chair of the ELA's working party, which produced the report, said: 'A Single Employment Court has its attractions, but it would be wrong for there to be a knee-jerk move in that direction or just a piecemeal review.
'We need a thoughtful and considered debate to achieve a 21st-century model for dealing with employment claims effectively. We should embrace technology, make smarter use of the expertise of specialist employment judges, and simplify procedures by having a single rulebook for all cases. 'Any proposals for reform need to be considered properly by all interested parties within reasonable time limits.'
In addition, the group suggests the retention of lay tribunal members; a three-step process for bringing a claim, involving input from specialist employment judges; and greater encouragement for alternative dispute resolution methods.
The association's comments come against a backdrop of ongoing civil courts reform, with discussions around moving the settlement of lower value civil cases online, investment in the court's IT infrastructure, and increases in hearing fees.
The organisation has also expressed concern about access to justice for claimants in the future.
The ELA added that the 'separate personality' traditionally enjoyed by employment tribunals over the rest of the court system should continue to be respected under any reforms.
The tribunals were seen as being effective before the summer of 2013 when fees were first introduced, leading directly to a dramatic fall in the number of claims being brought.