As if driving around Madrid airport four times trying, and failing, to find the car rental return depot wasn’t enough to dampen my spirits at the end of my family holiday on Monday, my extended hours in the departure lounge were soon darkened further by a friendly #ukemplaw tweep alerting me to an article in the Guardian, headlined “Employment Tribunal claims taking eight months to be heard”.
Employment tribunal claims in the UK are taking an average of eight months to be heard, as the system struggles under government funding cuts and a surge in complaints.
A report [sic] found that waiting times have risen for the fourth year in a row, meaning the average delay between a claim being lodged and an employment tribunal taking place is now 237 days. This compares with 207 days last year, according to research [sic] by employment law firm GQ Littler.
Raoul Parekh, a partner at GQ Littler, said: “Employment tribunals will soon reach breaking point. Eight-month delays are just not sustainable and can be very challenging for both parties involved.”
Yes, it’s my good friends GQ Littler, who modestly describe themselves as “the world’s leading employment law firm”. And, according to the latest set of official ET quarterly statistics, published by the Ministry of Injustice on 13 June, it is true that, in the last quarter of 2018-19 (i.e. January to March 2019), the average age on disposal of single ET claims/cases was 33 weeks (7.6 months) – six weeks more than in the same period in 2017-18. But I’m afraid the article is not going to win Guardian journalist Kalyeena Makortoff the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism. Because the rest of the passage quoted above – and so the premise of the whole article – is little more than garbage.
There is, of course, no ‘report’ by GQ Littler as such. Or, if there is, they are keeping it surprisingly well hidden (they have not responded to my request for a link to it). So I have no way of knowing the basis for their claim that “waiting times have risen for the fourth year in a row”, or where the figures of “237 days” and “207 days” come from – the official statistics give the average age on disposal only in weeks.
However, I do know – again, from the official statistics published by the Ministry of Injustice, which are freely available online, even to Guardian journalists – that the average age on disposal of single ET claims/cases was 41 weeks in 2014-15, 29 weeks in 2015-16, 28 weeks in 2016-18, 27 weeks in 2017-18, and 30 weeks in 2018-19. So, er, waiting times have not “risen for the fourth year in a row”.
To make it easy for Guardian journalists, as well as for lawyers at the solar system’s leading employment law firm, those figures are even collated in this handy answer of 9 July 2019 to a Parliamentary Question tabled by the shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon MP. And, if an average waiting time of 30 weeks is “unsustainable”, goodness knows how everyone coped in 2014-15, when it was 41 weeks.
It goes without saying that an average figure does not tell the whole story: an average age on disposal of 30 weeks (6.9 months) is entirely consistent with some cases taking much longer than that. Also, multiple claimant cases tend to take very much longer: according to the official statistics, in 2018-19, the average age on disposal of such cases was 126 weeks (29 months). But look on the bright side: in 2017-18, it was 245 weeks (56.5 months, or 4.7 years), and back in 2014-15 it was 184 weeks (42.5 months).
In short, it has for some months been abundantly clear from anecdotal evidence that the failure on the part of the Ministry of Injustice – until very recently – to respond to the entirely predictable rise in the number of ET cases following the abolition of fees in July 2017, with an appropriate increase in judicial and administrative resources, is currently resulting in very long delays in the resolution of many cases. However, things are not quite as bad and “unsustainable” as GQ Littler and the Guardian suggest. And Kalyeena Makortoff might have had a better chance of bagging that Pulitzer Prize if she had at least acknowledged that, in April this year, 58 new ET judges (51.5 FTE) belatedly joined the ET system. They may or may not prove to be the cavalry – time will tell – but they will help.
On the other hand, it is now clear that the waiting time for the next garbage press article based on a non-existent research ‘report’ by GQ Littler has fallen sharply. As previously noted on this blog, in early June the galaxy’s leading employment law firm got its name in the papers by wrongly claiming there has been “a big jump in [ET] pregnancy discrimination claims in the era of #MeToo”.
Then, just four weeks later, it scored big with near-identical articles in the Financial Times, the Daily Mail, the Metro, and the Times about an alleged “spike” in the number of ET sex discrimination claims in, er, the era of #MeToo:
Revelations of sexual harassment in Hollywood and business contributed to a 69 per cent jump in the number of sex discrimination claims brought to British employment tribunals in the year to March, according to an employment law firm.
Research [sic] by GQ Littler showed that 9,340 claims were lodged in tribunals in Great Britain in 2018-19, compared with just 5,522 in the year to March 2018. The spike follows revelations by women, in what became known as the #MeToo movement, of sexual harassment by powerful men.
The claims brought to employment tribunals cover myriad forms of sexual discrimination, including in hiring and other forms not related to harassment. The statistics do not record the form of sex discrimination alleged.
However, Hannah Mahon, a partner at GQ Littler, attributed the spike largely to a big increase in the public airing of sexual harassment claims. “It’s a much more public thing now,” Ms Mahon said of awareness of sexual harassment. “People are starting to understand their rights and feeling less shy about speaking out.”
I really can’t be bothered to write many words about this non-existent “jump” in ET sex discrimination claims, but here’s a chart (based on the very same official statistics ‘researched’ by GQ Littler) that is pretty conclusive about the nature of that “69 per cent” increase in claims in 2018-19, I think.
Suffice to say, in each of June and August 2018, there were one or more large multiple claimant cases. We can see this from the (freely available) official statistics: in August, for example, all but 298 of the unusual spike of 3,083 claims were lodged in just one region (Scotland). Similary, in June, all but 374 of the unusual spike of 1,888 claims were lodged in, er, Scotland. And, in the same months, Scotland also saw unusual spikes in equal pay claims. Doh!
But such multiple claimant case-based spikes do not a rising trend make. And, if there isn’t a rising trend, it can’t possibly be explained by #MeToo – not even by a legal eagle like Hannah Mahon. Indeed, if we take the figures for Scotland out of the equation, in 2018-19 the number of ET sex discrimination claims fell by 7.7%, from 5,269 to 4,864. I wonder what the universe’s leading employment law firm has to say about that.
And now, this week, we have “ET waiting times have risen for the fourth year in a row”. What will next week bring us from GQ Littler? Who cares? But, while we wait, here’s a nice photo of the Wonky family enjoying some cervezas in Caceres.