A little publicised but potentially very significant development in the field of employment law in 2017 will be the introduction of the routine publication of employment tribunal judgments. As matters stand, anyone (other than the parties and their representatives) who wants to search for or browse first instance decisions in the Employment Tribunal has to attend in person at the Bury St Edmunds office for English and Welsh decisions or Glasgow for Scottish decisions. Copies of specific decisions can be ordered but at a cost £10 and £5 each for additional decision in the same order. Decisions of the Northern Ireland Industrial Tribunals and Fair Employment Tribunals have been available online for some time.
Last June HM Courts and Tribunals Service announced that new employment tribunal decisions will be publicly available online from autumn 2016, subsequently put back to early 2017.
As many readers will know, employment tribunal decisions are not binding on subsequent tribunals so why is this news potentially very significant? Well, it’s primarily to do with reputation management. Years ago it would be quite usual to see local court reporters attending employment tribunals and their reports on cases would frequently appear on a page in a local paper devoted to employment and other judgments. However, the regional press has suffered huge financial cutbacks in recent years and the days of reporters attending tribunals as a matter of routine have long gone. Generally, cases are not reported unless they come to the attention of journalists as a result of contact from the parties or their representatives. For example, unions often issue press releases about cases they have backed in order to demonstrate successful outcomes for their members. Barristers’ chambers also publish details of successful cases, but these are overwhelmingly appeal hearings which are already available online, for example through the EAT online service and BAILII.
The new online employment tribunals decisions service will be an easy and free resource for accessing newsworthy content without the need to send someone to a tribunal. We can therefore expect to see a notable increase in the number of cases reported. Of course, online publication increases the chance of case reports being picked up by mainstream and national websites, with syndicated content (authorised or not) at the heart of many news websites.