In February 2017, I wrote a blog on the fact that Employment Tribunal Judgments were now online. You can view a copy of this blog here. That blog covers a number of the pros/cons to having an online database.
Three years on, how have things progressed?
The first point to note is that the usability of the site itself remains relatively basic. There is a general search box, but searching ‘Smith’ will bring up cases in which Smith is a name or part name of a party as well as the name of the Judge, witness, representative or case law. There are other some other search filters, you can differentiate between Judgments in England and Scotland and you can also search for Judgments within a specified time period.
It follows that unless you know what you are looking for, locating a specific judgement can take some time.
The second point to note is that there is no way of filtering out the majority of Judgments which relate to claims that have been dismissed on withdrawal. It should be noted that this doesn’t necessarily mean that these cases were without merit, rather that the system has no way of distinguishing cases that have been settled via ACAS or settlement agreement from cases unilaterally withdrawn.
The links to the cases themselves do sometimes differentiate between those Judgments with reasons and withdrawal Judgments, but you must have first clicked on the initial link in order to get to that page.
Having noted the difficulties above and again acknowledging the concerns contained within the original blogpost, it is fair to say that there have been some advantages certainly for practitioners in viewing first instance Judgments. For example:
- When reading an appellate case, it is now possible to read the first instance Judgment in full. This is good training; it helps lawyers learn to detect errors of law or defendable points within a Judgment.
- It is interesting to understand what arguments work and what doesn’t. Of course, this has always been possible with your own Judgments or appellate Judgments, but reading a first instance Judgment that you are not involved in can be a useful exercise.
- You get a ‘feel’ for the type of case that succeeds. Given that you won’t be reading a scientifically identified sample of cases, then treat it as what it is – a feeling.
- Not all unusual points reach the EAT. Even though one ET cannot bind another ET, it helps to read a reasoned Judgment and the arguments presented.
- If you haven’t been told that a case has settled, it is a good way of finding out that a case has come out of your diary!
So, three years on I still regard the innovation as welcome but would suggest that a couple of tweaks would assist usability.
Of course, this isn’t the greatest challenge facing the Employment Tribunal system at present. The backlog in cases, the regional differences as to how cases are approached and chronic under-prioritisation of the system remain the perennial problem.