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14 September, 2020 Open access

New Presidential Guidance issued in relation to remote and in-person employment tribunal hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic

New guidance concerns the fixing and conduct of remote and in-person hearings, and methods to safeguard open justice when hearings are conducted remotely

New Presidential Guidance has been issued in relation to remote and in-person employment tribunal hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A background note to the new Presidential Guidance on remote and in-person hearings advises -

'The COVID-19 pandemic has seriously disrupted the operational capabilities of the Employment Tribunals. It has increased the backlog of cases awaiting a decision, while the need for distancing, to minimise infection risk, has reduced the physical estate available for in-person hearings. Moreover, the windingdown of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is expected to lead to an increase in the number of claims that are presented.

Remote participation in a hearing may, in some cases, enhance access to justice. As a matter of principle, however, where a case before the Employment Tribunals involves disputed evidence and there is a need for parties and their witnesses to be asked questions, a hearing held in person is usually the best way to experience the delivery of justice.

The consequence of the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic is that many cases will experience significant delay in being heard. To minimise that delay, and where it is consistent with fairness and justice to do so, there is a temporary need for the Employment Tribunals to conduct remote hearings in greater numbers, and to do so in respect of cases that, in ordinary circumstances, would have been conducted on a face-to-face basis.'

The new guidance therefore concerns the fixing and conduct of remote and in-person hearings in the Employment Tribunals in England and Wales, and shoud be read alongside new Presidential Practice Direction on remote hearings and open justice, also issued today, that addresses methods to safeguard open justice when hearings are conducted remotely.