Employment tribunals may sit at night if a trial scheme is deemed successful.
The Tribunals Service is to pilot evening sittings at two tribunals, in east London and Cardiff, from early November. It said: “We are planning a six-month pilot project, which will see some of the more straight-forward hearings taking place slightly later in the day, from around 6pm to 8pm.
“We’re trialling this new initiative in response to anecdotal feedback we have received from tribunal users. Both employees and employers have indicated that they would prefer to have the option of attending a hearing outside normal business hours to enable them to fit it in around their work schedule.”
The Tribunals Service said complex cases would not be heard at these pilots. Only those cases that need a judge but do not require a panel or a full day’s hearing – for example, wages claims – will be scheduled for evening sittings.
It added that hearing cases later in the day would free up resources so that more time could be devoted to more complex cases.
This prompted employment law firm Eversheds to comment that the evening sittings were “an attempt to deal with the backlog of cases that has built up over recent years”.
Head of employment Martin Warren said: “The volume of employment tribunal cases has climbed steadily over recent years. The rise in claim numbers is largely accounted for by the tens of thousands of equal pay claims against public sector employers.
“Added to that economic conditions have led to an increase in unfair dismissal and redundancy-related claims, leaving tribunals struggling to cope. The tribunals have recently been recruiting for new judges but clearly the feeling is that this won’t make a big enough dent in the backlog of claims.”
The Tribunals Service said that it would evaluate the pilot schemes once they were over and decide if night sittings will become a regular feature.
Warren said that evening sittings would start in other regions next spring if the pilots are considered a success.