The number of outstanding tribunal cases almost quadrupled from 144,900 in 2007 to 530,400 at the end of 2011, figures compiled by law firm EMW showed.
By the end of last year, 84 per cent of ‘single’ cases had an initial hearing within 26 weeks of being accepted by a tribunal, but half of all ‘multiple’ cases – where similar cases are heard together – took longer than two years to conclude. In 25 per cent of multiple cases it took longer than three years for a decision to be reached.
As new cases continued to outstrip completed ones, the law firm warned that the system was at breaking point and could cause increased financial uncertainty for companies.
“The tribunal system is completely overstretched,” said Louise Holder, employment principal at EMW. “Cases are continuing to pile up, leaving both employees and employers in limbo. Longer case lead times mean more resources and time are used up that a business could spend on something else.”
Government reforms to the service include proposals for all potential tribunal claims to be submitted for conciliation to Acas. But Holder added that this would only displace the backlog issue from one system to another.
“Moving where the caseload falls won’t help matters,” she continued. “It just moves the bottleneck from one poorly-equipped part of the system to another. Acas already has a backlog of its own, which a wave of new cases will only add to.”
EMW added that it was unlikely that efficiency savings would materialise from the impending reforms, and that the government should focus more on speeding up the tribunal process or finding alternative dispute resolution routes to tribunals.
The government’s tribunal plans are part of wider reform of employment law in the UK, including the recently published Beecroft report. This argued that businesses should have the right to make no-fault dismissals, although ministers appeared to have backed away from implementing this recommendation.