A Word from the Editor - May 2018

Alex Lock, DAC Beachcroft LLP
Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Politicians and the mainstream media are fond of the phrase ‘British Values’. It is deployed to explain and justify all manner of actions, whether military, political or economic. For those without children of school age, you may be surprised to learn that the notion of British Values is something that is required to be taught and instilled in young people. For those scratching their heads, wondering what these values are and why there are uniquely British, I can help on the first; but the second you will need to work out for yourselves.

British Values are said to be: democracy; the rule of law; individual liberty; mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith. All good stuff and most people would not quibble with them as values.

The one of interest to me is the rule of law. This encompasses many features, from the law applying equally to everyone, regardless of their wealth or status, to an independent judiciary and a transparency in proceedings. It does, however, require that we have a sufficient number of judges to hear the cases that define our rights and obligations that, in turn, uphold the rule of law. It also requires that we have a sufficient number of administrative staff to process those cases, as well as an estate that provides proper facilities for those cases to be heard. And that is before ones gets on to politicians and the media upholding those British Values and not denigrating either the judges or the decisions that they make, characterising them in a cartoon-ish and ignorant way.

The results of the ELA survey on experiences of the employment tribunal system will not come as a surprise to most Briefing readers. After all, many of you will have been respondents. What it appears to show is a system that is in crisis. It plainly does not have the resources to properly administer and determine the caseload that it has. In part, that is a result of the increase in tribunal claims arising from the abolition of fees. It is also the result of nearly a decade of cuts to its funding, with some years seeing a reduction of 20% or so.

Whether it is time for a fundamental rethink of employment tribunals, perhaps resurrecting past discussions on employment courts, justice by Skype or the greater use of artificial intelligence is something that we may turn to in due course. For the time being, there is a danger that such thoughts become a distraction from an urgent need to make what we have work properly, before embarking on an inevitably disruptive process of reform.

The recruitment drive for new employment judges, so well articulated by Brian Doyle in this issue (pages 6 to 8), is a welcome move and no doubt many of you will be looking over the metaphorical fence to see just how green the grass is on the other side. Looking at the results of our survey, also well articulated by Richard Fox in this issue (page 15), one can see that much more needs to be done. We are told that tax receipts are up and borrowing is down. If the grip of austerity is to be loosened, then our system of justice – and particularly that part relating to people’s rights at work – ought to feel the benefit of some much-needed investment.

Alex Lock, DAC Beachcroft LLP

The legal content in this article is believed to be correct and true on this date.