The Interim Report by Lord Justice Briggs (Civil Courts Structure Review: Interim Report) signals the beginning of changes to the Courts and Employment Tribunal system. Employment cases are heard in three types of court – the Employment Tribunal, County Court and High Court. Some claims such as breach of contract can be heard in the Employment Tribunal or County/High Court.
Court and Tribunal buildings in certain parts of the country are underused. Some of them have been shut down because they are not economic to ran. The majority of potential users are unable to use the system because of its expense. The Briggs Interim Report concentrates on the current work of the High and County Courts and the Court of Appeal, but also refers to the Employment Tribunals. It lays out proposals to repair the current state of affairs. The full review will be ready by July 2016.
The Civil Courts Structure Review was commissioned by the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls in July 2015. Its Terms of Reference are as follows:
The Government has set aside £700 million to spend on a programme of digitization. Courts and Tribunals will no longer accept paper communication or documentation and will insist on electronic communication only.
The Interim Report envisages that claims worth below £25,000 are to be dealt with, entirely virtually through a new On-line Court System. Although the report does not specifically say so, this would quite possibly include employment claims.
“There is a clear and pressing need to create an Online Court for claims up to £25,000 designed for the first time to give litigants effective access to justice without having to incur the disproportionate cost of using lawyers. There will be three stages: Stage 1- a largely automated, inter-active online process for the identification of the issues and the provision of documentary evidence; Stage 2 – conciliation and case management, by case officers; Stage 3 resolution by judges. The court will use documents on screen, telephone, video or face to face meetings to meet the needs of each case.”