The draft tribunal regulations are being laid down before Parliament with a huge raft of proposed changes designed to make the employment tribunal system more effective and decrease the ever increasing burden on the system.

The proposals include that claims are to be lodged with ACAS to allow early conciliation before they enter the tribunal system.  ACAS will have one month (which may be extended for a further 2 weeks) in which to offer non-compulsory early conciliation, during which period the clock for the relevant time limit will be stopped. ACAS will retain its duty to provide post claim conciliation.

The use of mediation and compromise agreements is also proposed with the aim of increasing the use of alternative dispute resolution and improving the use of simplified compromise agreements where employment needs to end.

It is proposed to tackle weaker cases by introducing a fee.  Currently there is a requirement to pay a deposit order of £500 if a tribunal judge feels a case is weak and the claimant wishes to proceed.  This will become more flexible with the ability to increase an order to a maximum level of £1000.  There will also be a maximum cap on cost awards limits from £10,000 to £20,000.

With a view to shortening tribunal hearings it is proposed that witness statements should be taken as read, unless a judge or tribunal directs otherwise. Additionally, parties and witnesses attending tribunal hearings will no longer be able to claim for the payment of their expenses.  Unfair dismissal cases will normally be heard by an employment judge sitting alone.

The draft regulations include a proposal for extending the qualification period for unfair dismissal from one to two years but only for employees who commence with new employers from 6 April 2012.

The introduction of financial penalties for employers is also proposed if they are found to have breached employment rights with judges having flexibility on imposing a charge where to negligence or malice is found.