With apologies to Chaka Khan, the latest set of weekly HMCTS management information on the backlog of Employment Tribunal (ET) cases – which the Ministry of Injustice has been publishing since the fourth month of the pandemic, alongside that for other courts and tribunals – suggests the Government’s repeatedly promised Employment Bill may not be the only thing to have gone missing recently.
Since the start of the year, this weekly management information had suggested that, due to a steady decline in the number of new ET single claims/cases, the ET system had finally got on top of the backlog of such claims/cases – which has ballooned by 48% since the onset of the pandemic – and had even started to reduce it: the backlog peaked at 45,376 in late February, then fell by 1,034 over the first three weeks of March.
And the latest set of this management information, published this morning, should have set out the data on new claims/cases and disposals in the five weeks ending 28 March, 4 April, 11 April, 18 April and 25 April. However, the relevant cells in the spreadsheet for the latter four weeks are blank, and a note at the top of the spreadsheet states:
The workload information for April is not included in this release, as the work of the Employment Tribunal transfers to a new case management system. The figures for April will be updated in [a] future release of this [Management Information].
Which is understandable, perhaps, but does leave us with the rather odd fact that, according to the published HMCTS management information up to 28 March, the weekly number of new single claims/cases fell from more than 1,000 in each of 13 of the last 15 weeks of 2020 (an average of 1,067), to just over 900 in mid-January, then to an average of 822 in February, to 623 in mid-March, and an almost microscopic 360 in the week ending 28 March (see the table, below).
Now, it is possible that the number of new ET single claims/cases has fallen by 66% over the first three months of 2021, to a level not seen since the 2013-17 era of ET fees. But it doesn’t seem very likely. In late 2020, the trend was (mildly) upwards.
But wait! In tiny print, at the bottom of the spreadsheet of HMCTS data, is a somewhat cryptic footnote. This states:
The Employment Tribunal is moving onto a new case management system [CMS] for the administration of work from March 2021. HMCTS is currently working to incorporate the data from this new IT system alongside longer-established data sources to provide complete management information for this jurisdiction. While this work is ongoing, figures shown [in this spreadsheet] are only from the longer-established data sources and do not include all the cases being administered using the new system. As a result, the figures may show declining trends, but will be incomplete and reflect the transition in case management systems.
Could it be that new ET claims/cases administered under the new CMS – perhaps including in January, February and March as the new system was being piloted and/or live tested, before going fully live from 1 April – have, in effect, gone missing from the published HMCTS data? That is, the decline in new claims/cases shown in the published data isn’t real. In which case, it may well be that the ET system has not yet got on top of the (possibly still growing) backlog, after all.
Perhaps we should be told. Whatever, as the Low Pay Commission notes in a new report on enforcement of the minimum wage, the average waiting time for an ET hearing is now “over 12 months”.