CVP, Cloud Video Platform, has been the employment tribunals greatest ally and is definitely helping tackle the caseload. That is the verdict of Judge Barry Clarke, President of Employment Tribunals in England and Wales and Scotland’s President Judge Shona Simon.
This is in the news following publication of the Senior President of Tribunals’ Annual Report 2021 which reviews the experience of tribunals of all kinds during the COVID-19 pandemic and their plans for reform. The report shows employment tribunals have become one of the biggest jurisdictional users of CVP, regularly spending 3,000 hours a week on a platform that, just one year ago, was largely unknown. Clarke explains how, thanks to CVP, the Tribunals Service has managed to restore the ‘disposal rate’ to its pre-pandemic level. He says CVP has effectively ‘tripled the size of our estate’. Looking ahead, he says we will continue to be heavily reliant on CVP, and its successor platform, for at least the next two years. The successor platform is known as the ‘video hearing service’ and is currently being piloted in the South West of England region.
As for Scotland Judge Shona Simon reports that all tribunal locations in Scotland now have the equipment to allow hearings to take place in a ‘hybrid’ format meaning that, for example, that the tribunal panel can be together in the tribunal building, with parties, representatives and witnesses joining remotely when required. However, she says she doesn’t envisage video hearings becoming the norm. She says while they have their pros, they also have their cons, referring to research and surveys from stakeholders showing that whilst they might be good for getting through cases quickly they are not always the best way to achieve justice, which is the whole point, of course.
On the backlog, it is worst in parts of England and the problem is not geographically uniform across the country which, Clarke explains, is because resources are not evenly distributed. Across England and Wales, about 60% of the outstanding caseload sits in London and the South East but that region only has a third of the judges. Two regions in particular, South East England (administered mainly from Watford) and London South (administered from Croydon), have far fewer judges than they need and he says that is a problem they are now addressing through a recruitment drive.
So that’s the view of the two Presidents but let’s hear from a practitioner. Rebecca Sulley has been in the thick of it throughout the pandemic, defending tribunal cases for clients mostly based in England, typically the Midlands and the South East. Rebecca joined me by video-link from Birmingham to discuss what it has been like at the sharp end:
Rebecca Sulley: “Yes, so COVID has had a massive impact on the tribunal system, they really weren't set up for anything like this. Previously it had always been in-person hearings and it was very difficult to even really get a telephone hearing for something simple like a preliminary hearing but obviously, with the pandemic, the tribunals have been forced to adapt and they've done so via the use of CVP hearings which is like a video hearing where all parties attend remotely and that's something that has actually worked very well after the initial teething problems and it's something that the tribunals will be continuing with, even post pandemic, because they have realised that actually, it does save a lot of time and it means that people can dial in from their various locations and not have the same issues in getting to tribunal, especially if they have a cold, for example. So it is something that tribunals have said that they will be continuing with post pandemic so that has been one good thing that has come out of this.”
Joe Glavina: “A new case management system has been rolled out across Great Britain – that was completed in May. It’s cloud-based and can be accessed by staff working at home. It sounds like progress, Becki.”
Rebecca Sulley: “So the tribunal system is a relatively archaic system. They’ve had paper based systems which has really caused many problems in the pandemic with staff not being able to attend the tribunal offices- and that's resulted in massive delays in getting claims progressed. So they are looking at bringing in a new case management system to hopefully make things a lot quicker and also make listing hearings a lot quicker because we're finding that not all preliminary hearings are being listed when the claim comes in, which means that there is quite a long delay between responding to the claim and attending a hearing to agree the issues. So with the new case management system it's hoped that they will be able to respond quicker to correspondence and also to ensure that hearings are listed quicker than they have been.”
Joe Glavina: “I know they’ve appointed quite a lot of new judges recently to deal with the backlog. It looks like most of them will be going to London I gather.”
Rebecca Sulley: “So London has really suffered in terms of the tribunal system. They’ve had a huge number of claims coming in and they've really struggled with admin resourcing and judicial resourcing. So they have gone out on a big recruitment drive and there are a large number of judges joining across the regions but, predominantly, they will be supporting London and the south east because that is where the biggest backlog is. So it's hoped that with more judges on board and the possibility to do more remote hearings we won't be so limited to only using judges who are based physically within London. So hopefully that will really help improve the backlog that we're currently seeing in those areas. They are also looking at bringing in additional resource, people who can review applications that have been made or correspondence between the parties and hopefully progress that rather than it being a case of having to wait until right near the hearing before it’s looked at.”
That report on how tribunals have coped, and are coping, during the pandemic is the Senior President of Tribunals’ Annual Report 2021. The section dealing with the employment tribunals, and the EAT, is at Annex C. If you would like to read that for yourself you can - we have put a link to it in the transcript of this programme.
- Link to Senior President of Tribunals’ Annual Report 2021