When originally set up, the panel of an employment tribunal (then called an industrial tribunal) was a type of ‘industrial jury’ consisting of a legally qualified chair and two non-legal members, one drawn from a panel of people nominated by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the other from a panel of people nominated by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
Non-legal members are no longer nominated by the CBI and TUC, but are still allocated to an ‘employer panel’ and an ‘employee panel’, although many cases, including all preliminary hearings, are heard by a Judge sitting alone.
In February 2023 the Senior President of Tribunals launched a consultation on Panel Composition in the Employment Tribunals and Employment Appeal Tribunal. The Consultation closed on 27 April 2023.
The consultation suggests that non-legal members may in some cases have a detrimental effect on proceedings in that it often increases the length of time in hearing and delivering a decision, as time must be given for the members to ask questions and to contribute to the decision or judgment.
Ask questions and contribute to the judgment? That will never do…It seems a strange proposition to cut out the non-legal members as the purpose of their inclusion was initially to bring a ‘what happens in the real world’ perspective to the tribunal.
Whilst abandoning non-leagl members may well speed up proceedings, complex multi-witness hearings will always benefit from more than one set of eyes and ears making judgment.