Employment tribunals were set up to provide a quick, informal and inexpensive forum in order to resolve employment disputes. They are less formal than other courts and parties can be represented by solicitors, barristers, trade union representatives or non-legally qualified consultants, or can represent themselves.
Bringing and defending claims
In order to start a claim a claimant must present their claim form to the tribunal within the relevant time limit for the type of claim that they are bringing.
Tribunal fees have recently been introduced and the fee must be paid prior to the Form being lodged. Depending on the nature of the claim and how many ‘Claimants’ are bringing the claim will depend on the amount of fee that a Claimant will need to pay.
The tribunal will confirm whether the claim is accepted and will send it to the respondent and require a response be submitted within 28 days.
There are prescribed forms to be completed for the claimant and respondent, these being forms ET1 and ET3 respectively.
Conciliation of tribunal claims
If the claim is one which Acas has the power to conciliate, the tribunal will send a copy of the ET1 and ET3 to Acas who will allocate a conciliation officer to the case. The conciliation officer is a neutral party to assist the parties negotiate a settlement of the claim. In April 2014 there will be a new requirement for an employee to refer details of their case to Acas prior to starting proceedings in the employment tribunal.
Once the claim and response have been accepted the tribunal has considerable power to determine how proceedings will reach full hearing through the use of orders and directions. Sometime orders with a timetable of steps for the parties to take will be issued. On other matters case management discussions will take place to determine how the claim will proceed.
Usually written witness statements will be required by the tribunal, to be exchanged between parties simultaneously before the hearing. Even where such a direction is not given, a written statement should be prepared.
A bundle of relevant documents which both parties intend to rely on at the hearing should be prepared, although in reality this will usually simply be a combination of all documents that both parties are in possession of. It is beneficial to limit the documents in use, and usually the tribunal will only consider those documents referred to in witness statements.
The tribunal will usually consist of an employment judge and two lay members. However, in the more straight forward cases (including unfair dismissal) employment judges sit alone.
Depending on the nature of the claims being heard, a fee will be payable by the Claimant prior to the hearing.
The parties’ witnesses will give evidence and the other side will have the opportunity to cross examine them. At the end of the evidence each party will have the opportunity to summarise their case.
At the end of the hearing the tribunal will try to come to a unanimous decision on the issues before it. It will provide a judgement which could be given verbally at the end of the hearing or it may be reserved and provided in writing at a later date. It may deal with liability and remedy, or may just deal with liability, leaving remedy to be determined at a later hearing. Reasons must be given for the judgement.
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