Judges are being strongly encouraged to hold employment tribunals remotely where possible, in order to ensure cases continue to be handled fairly during the coronavirus pandemic.
Guidance from the Tribunals Judiciary urges judges to consider using video conferencing software to conduct hearings of all kinds, provided that cases can still be handled fairly and justly.
As of Monday, no physical employment tribunal hearings will take place. Hearings will be converted to a “case management hearing”, which can be handled virtually or by telephone, on the first day the hearing was scheduled to take place.
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The guidance, issued by employment tribunal presidents Judge Simon and Judge Doyle, said remote hearings will reduce the risk of spreading the Covid-19 coronavirus to claimants, respondents and their representatives and help alleviate any worries around travelling to a hearing and physically interacting with the individuals involved.
This may also allow those who feel they need to apply to postpone their hearing because of coronavirus-related difficulties, such as self-isolation, to continue to present or defend their case as scheduled.
The guidance states: “Our final words are to encourage tribunals, employment judges and all those who seek to access justice through the employment tribunal system to approach the unprecedented circumstances we now face in a spirit of mutual cooperation to maximise the number of hearings that are able to take place through the creative use of all means available, which are compatible with the rules and in particular the overriding objective [of ensuring hearings are just and fair].”
It advises judges to consider converting any physical hearings they have scheduled into a hearing carried out by telephone or video conferencing software, unless doing so would be contrary to the tribunal’s responsibility to ensure hearings are fair and just.
There are likely to be a number of applications to postpone hearings or for time extensions because of coronavirus-related reasons, the guidance states. Employment judges should expect parties to provide evidence that “shows or tends to show that the reason… is a valid Covid-19 related one”.
In a bulletin issued by the presidents on 19 March, circulated by by employment law barrister Daniel Barnett, the presidents stated: “For the avoidance of doubt, this direction also applies to any hearing that is already in progress on Monday 23 March 2020 and, if not already addressed before then, the parties may assume that the hearing on that day is converted to a case management hearing of the kind referred to above. The parties remain free to make any application to the tribunal at any time.”