There is no denying that the current pandemic, COVID-19, has dramatically changed the way that the majority of industry sectors are working. Numerous employees all over the UK are working from home and for the past few weeks, this has now become the ‘new normal’. Whilst a lot of work can be undertaken by employment law specialists from home, there was some curiosity regarding how employment tribunal hearings would go ahead during this time.
Traditionally, all employment tribunal claims that require a full hearing will be undertaken in person. Whilst there may be rare occasions where this is not necessarily the case, these employment tribunal cases were few and far between. However, of course, due to COVID-19 some current hearings are being postponed but, others are taking place by phone or video.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 expands the availability of video and audio links in tribunal proceedings and also full video and audio hearings in certain circumstances. If you already have a hearing date at the employment tribunal then the court will contact you and tell you how the hearing will take place.
Of course, as the UK begins to relax lockdown measures and many start to return to work, it has raised the question as to whether virtual tribunal hearings will become the new normal. Whilst there are still lots of unanswered questions about how these hearings will continue to work or whether they are in fact the best solution for the future, curiosity is causing employment law specialists to look into this further.
Undertaking a virtual tribunal hearing
When you think about it, audio and video technology has long played a part in the justice system and has now also provided support during the COVID-19 pandemic, so there is no reason why the majority of employment tribunal claims that require a hearing cannot be undertaken virtually. It is likely that if the vast majority of virtual hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic are successful then using telephone or video conferencing for any employment tribunal hearings could become the new norm where attendance in person is not essential.
It is important to note that every case and therefore every hearing is different, so there are likely to be some circumstances where it is not appropriate to hold a virtual hearing. We may find ourselves in the situation where virtual hearings will be case dependent and claimants will need to tell the tribunal if there are any circumstances which may affect or impair their ability to participate effectively in an audio or video hearing. Then, upon review, a decision will be made as to how the hearing will take place.
There is no denying that handling employment tribunal claims and undertaking hearing virtually long-term will go on to save both time and costs. Arguably, this will also provide more access to justice and allow cases to be settled much quicker than they may have been otherwise. Many are predicting that if there are minimal issues regarding a virtual tribunal hearings then, they really could be here to stay.
So, what does the future hold?
It is fair to say that introducing virtual tribunal hearings long-term could be one of the biggest adjustments made to the tribunal system, maybe even ever. It will be very interesting to see how things progress as more COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and things begin to return to how they were back at the beginning of 2020 here in the UK. Ultimately, there is no way to predict exactly what is going to happen and only time will tell.
Of course, if you require assistance with an employment tribunal claim, our team here at Nationwide Employment Lawyers are still on hand to help. Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to speak to a member of our team about your claim in more detail. We are more than happy to answer any questions that you may have and provide you with any additional information in this regard over the phone until we are able to safely arrange a face to face meeting.