On Wednesday last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the requirement to pay fees to bring claims in the Employment Tribunal was unlawful and in effect a denial of the access to justice. Following this, the Ministry of Justice has suspended the on-line service which has, in recent years, been one of the easier methods of lodging claims – especially when deadlines for doing so are tight.
The effect of the suspension of the Employment Tribunals online service is to make submission of ET1 claims more difficult because it means that the only way of commencing tribunal proceedings is to fill in a hard copy claim form and get the claim form to the relevant office.
The Government’s statement sets out postal addresses only to which claim forms may be sent.
If the suspension of this online service makes it difficult for a claimant to comply with the relevant time limit for their claim then, depending on the type of claim that is being made, it may be possible for them to apply for an extension on the basis that it was ‘not reasonably practicable’ for them to comply or that it is ‘just and equitable’ for the time limit to be extended. However, an extension of time cannot be guaranteed, and there is no indication as to how tribunals will treat claims which are submitted late due to the suspension of the online service. Claimants and representatives should therefore endeavour to ensure claims are received by the employment tribunal office well within the relevant time limit.
There is currently no indication of for how long the Employment Tribunals online service will remain suspended. It seems likely that it will remain unavailable until all references to the payment of fees have been removed. Potential claimants and solicitors should therefore proceed on the basis that hard copy ET1 claim forms should be used until further notice.
Simon Thomas is a partner in Hutchinson Thomas solicitors and Notaries Public and advises on all aspects of employment law.