Are our employment tribunals safe?
The Government has announced plans to close Bedford Employment Tribunal from September.
After closing 140 courts in 2011, the government last year announced a further 80 to be closed in a second tranche. We have learned that this includes the Bedford Employment Tribunal. The Ministry of Justice cites underuse and cost (the courts involved cost the taxpayer around half a billion pounds each year). The Justice Minister said that more than 97% of citizens would still be able to reach their required court “by car within an hour”. However this is not ideal for many people.
A consequence of the closure of these courts has resulted in expensive journeys to court and tribunal, with many having to travel further to lodge their claims. The claims in the Bedford Tribunal will be distributed across Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.
Witnesses in the Employment Tribunal are not reimbursed their travelling expenses any more (unless they are compelled to attend by a Tribunal order), so this is a matter of some concern to our clients.
Surprisingly, the government failed to notify its plans to the Mayor of Bedford and the local MP, who said the closure is a “devastating blow to justice in this town”. These cuts together with those already made in the region have led to a decline to local services in the Bedford Borough.
Courts closing down means inaccessibility to many who cannot afford to commute. Tribunal statistics from April 2015 to March 2016 show an increase of 25,000 claims on the previous year. This shows that the closing down of courts does not necessarily mean a decrease of claims being bought but rather increased inconvenience for claimants.
However, the Birmingham Employment Tribunal’s position is quite safe. It deals with enough cases per year that its future is not in doubt.
By Manpreet Kooner