Access to Justice: NI Industrial Tribunal backlogged with 93,000 cases

Dylan Loughlin

The Industrial Tribunal (NI) is under the spotlight, with news today that it is currently backlogged with 93,000 cases. The number of claims are rising and the amount of decisions being promulgated is seemingly at nil. With the tribunal closed until the 1st March 2021, it is not surprising that a claim, at full merits level, will not be heard until at least 2022.

It is not surprising that there is a backlog, pending the outcome of the UK Supreme Court in the Agnew v PSNI holiday pay case, an increased focus on the gig economy and, not forgetting the COVID situation, where the Tribunal was forced to close and an economy which seen almost 11,000 proposed collective redundancies- a 10 year high for NI!

The backlog will mean that Claimants will have to wait a longer period of time for a determination of their case. Put into perspective, if an employee is claiming £120.00 in unlawful deductions from wages for example, it may take up a year to have their case heard. Often we deal with employees who have been in a job their whole life and it has come to an end which may be due to unfair selection, unfair dismissal or by reasons in connection to discrimination – we fully appreciate how upsetting it can be for individuals as well as the length of time it will take for a determination by an Employment Judge.

It further highlights the access to justice issues which are present in the tribunal system. We wrote to the department for the economy today;

On the OITFET website, the rules and procedures are set out in 5 languages. These documents contain guidance on the former rules and procedures, however “These procedures are currently under review following the introduction of the 2020 Rules of Procedure.”

As I am sure you will appreciate, it is now 2021, and these publications have not yet been updated, nor have there been additional languages published.

This is a huge barrier to participation, especially during a time when employment litigation is on the rise. As a result, this may drive litigants in person to obtain expensive legal representation which is a barrier on the access to justice spectrum.

We would further request if there has been a consideration in updating this information and when will it take place, and additionally, whether there will be additional languages added.”

We hope that the economy Minister will respond to us promptly, and we will update you all here.