The Government has recently published a Consultation on amendments to the Employment Tribunals postponement procedures under the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment (SBEE) Bill with the aim of making the Tribunal service more efficient for all users (click here). The consultation will close on 12 March 2015.
The SBEE Bill will provide additional powers to make regulations governing Tribunal procedure. The Government proposes to use these together with existing powers in the Employment Tribunals Act to amend the Tribunal Rules of Procedure to:
1. Provide that where a party has been granted 2 previous postponements of hearings in the same case, any further applications by that party for a postponement will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.
2. Provide that any application for a postponement presented less than 7 days before the date of the relevant hearing or made at the hearing itself shall only be granted in exceptional circumstances.
3. Oblige Tribunals to consider the imposition of a cost order or a preparation time order against a party that is granted a late postponement. A late postponement being a postponement where the application is made less than 7 days before the date of the hearing.
In addition to the “exceptional circumstances” exemption referred to above, the Government proposes two specific exemptions to the new rules:
1.Where the parties agree there should be a postponement and the Tribunal believes it is desirable to facilitate a settlement; and
2.Where the postponement is requested as a result of an act or omission beyond the applicant’s control eg late disclosure of documents by the other side.
It can be extremely frustrating under the current system when adjournments are granted at the last minute, particularly if brief fees have been incurred and so these proposals are to be welcomed.