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Proposed new rules on Tribunal postponements

29th February 2016

Historically there has often been criticism of delays in Employment Tribunal cases. In particular, many employers and employer organisations have criticised the Employment Tribunal Service for delays in dealing with cases. More often than not the allegation has been that claimants in the Employment Tribunal have been allowed repeated delays in dealing with their cases.

As a consequence of such pressures the Government has conducted a consultation on proposed amendments to the Employment Tribunal Rules of Procedures. The objective of the consultation was to ascertain the views on proposals to introduce  a set limit on the number of postponements to hearing to two per party, save in exceptional cases, and obliging the Employment Tribunal to consider making an order for costs where an application for postponement is made less than 7 days before the hearing.

Frankly this is in reality a fairly pointless exercise. For many years the Employment Tribunal has had the power to refuse applications for a postponement. In reality the Employment Tribunals are very reluctant to grant any application for postponement made at the last minute, and the later the application is made the less likely it is to be granted.

The proposed new regulations make no attempt to define "exceptional circumstances", instead leaving that to be determined by the Employment Tribunal itself and relevant case law. So, the proposed new regulation will do little to clarify this issue anyway, and gives no real guidance to the Employment Tribunals on the relevant criteria to take into account when considering a late application for postponement. Nothing in the Government's response to the consultation suggests just how the Employment Tribunals have been misapplying the current rules, and their existing case management powers in respect of postponements, or how the new regulations will improve the situation.

Of the very few people and organisations that submitted a response to the consultation, some 33 in total (which in itself suggests to us that this is really not an issue in the forefront of the mind or list of worries of businesses and individuals alike), the majority pointed out that there was no need for new regulations. The respondents noted that the Employment Tribunal already has, and uses, management powers to deal with applications for delays, and has the power to make orders for costs in appropriate cases. Nevertheless, the Government has announced that it will proceed with making new regulations anyway.

If you need any advice on the issues raised in this article do not hesitate to contact us at Hallett Employment Law Services Ltd.      

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