Why Are Tribunals Better Than Court?

Caragh Bailey
7 min read
Why Are Tribunals Better Than Court? from Employment Law Friend

Is tribunal the same as court?

How do tribunals and courts differ in style? - The employment tribunal is less formal and the chairman will usually take more time to explain the process to you and ask more questions. You may be able to get support in the forms of:

The civil court is more formal and the judge is very unlikely to intervene at all. They will hear both arguments and make a decision, for this reason it may be especially important to hire a solicitor for a civil court claim.

The employment tribunal process is designed to be quicker and cheaper than formal court proceedings. But the main way that they differ is in what type of laws they handle. This affects what cases they can hear.

Update 2022
The wait time for county court trials reached an all time high in the third quarter of 2022. Multi- and fast-track claims took on average 75.5 weeks to reach a trial.

What is the difference between court and tribunal?

The main bonus of going to court is that, in some cases, after you have missed your employment tribunal time limit, you may be able to claim in the civil court up to 6 years from the event.
See which claims can go to court in our comparison table below.

What cases can be heard by an employment tribunal?

The employment tribunal hears cases based on statute (laws written and passed by the government). Civil courts generally handle common law which is the body of unwritten laws that are established by the legal precedents of previous cases. If this all sounds a bit confusing, don't worry! Employment Law is one of the few areas where you might get to choose between the two, and we've got it covered.

Prohibited conduct claims under the The Equality Act 2010.
Unlawful deduction of wages
If the claim is for a specific and quantifiable amount of money
If the payment is uncertain, unquantifiable, or a general sum claimed as damages
(Including personal injury where the claim falls under Part 5 of The Equality Act 2010 ie: Your employer did not make reasonable adjustments for your disability, resulting in injury)
*Award limited to £25 000.
Applies only to employees or apprentices.
Doesn't include personal injury claims, unless they fall under The Equality Act 2010.
Claim must arise, or be outstanding, on termination of the employee's employment.
*No cap on award.
Anyone with a contract can claim.
Does include personal injury.

Can claim any time after the breach up to 6 years.

Breaches of legal duty including negligence
(Including claims for stress or personal injury as a result of employer's negligence)

Can I win more money from tribunal or from court?
This question is much more complex than 'What is the maximum award at employment tribunal vs court?'
The employment tribunal cannot award more than 52 weeks' pay, but, as you can see in our comparison table above, it has much lower caps in certain cases.
For example: In breach of contract claims it cannot award more than £25 000. The civil court has less restrictions on how much it can award, but that does not mean you will win more.

The answer will depend on your individual case and what claims you are bringing. unfortunately there is no easy one-size-fits-all answer to this one, we recommend that you get legal advice specific to your case.

    Bringing a claim to the civil court
If you are bringing your claim to court you may have your case heard by the county court or the high court. This will depend on the amount of your claim. You make your claim to the court you choose (it is important to pick the right one) using a claim form. Which is equivalent to the employment tribunal's ET1 Form. It contains:
  • The court reference number
  • The parties to the proceedings (you, your employer)
  • What is being claimed (breach of contract, personal injury due to negligence, etc)
  • Details of the claim, including any money you're seeking (If its very complicated you can attach the details separately)

You, or your solicitor give this form to the court, along with a request that they issue a claim form. They will then give this to your employer.

    Your employer must respond
Your employer can do any of the following:
  • Admit you are right for all or part of the claim
  • File a defence (their argument against your claim)
  • File an acknowledgement of service (this just just says that they're received your claim)
  • Apply for a summary judgement (if they think your case has no prospect of succeeding, the judge can give a judgement without a full trial)

    Case management
The civil court system is complex. Once your employer has responded, you'll be told which 'track' they might put your case on. They'll send you and your employer a questionnaire which helps the court decide which court and 'track' to put you on and how your claim should be managed.

You should submit any more relevant information when you submit your questionnaire. Unless your claim is on the small claims track in the county court you will probably then be given a case management conference, equivalent to the preliminary hearing at employment tribunal. This will cover:
  • What you need to do next
  • A timescale for the next phase
  • A budget or costs for each phase of the work

Like in an employment tribunal, you and your employer will be required to provide certain documents which may include witness statements or expert evidence.

Reaching a settlement agreement outside of court is much more complicated in court cases than in the employment tribunal. Most importantly, if you are offered a settlement and you refuse it, this can significantly reduce your award if you win at your trial.

We recommend seeking the advice of an employment solicitor in this instance.

The costs system is also quite complex. Most importantly, if you lose in court you will probably have to pay some or all of your employer's legal costs, which could be enormous if they have a team of corporate lawyers behind them. For some people this reason alone answers the question: Why are tribunals better than court?

Frequently Asked Questions
CPR doesn't directly apply to the employment tribunal, they have to adhere to ETPR instead (Employment Tribunal Procedure Rules). However, both are similar in that the principle of open justice applies to both.
You can't bring the same claim to both the tribunal and the civil court. You can't take a claim on to court after the employment tribunal has given their decision either.
For example: If you bring a constructive dismissal claim to tribunal, but your case is only covered by common law and not statute, you can only sue for breach of contract. This award is capped at the tribunal at £25 000. You could not then go to the civil court to try to claim for the rest.

However, you may have a number if claims in your dispute, which could be brought to the tribunal and the court separately.
For example: If you have a high salary and claims of both wrongful and unfair dismissal, it may be beneficial to bring unfair dismissal before the tribunal and wrongful dismissal before the high court. Our employment solicitors can provide expert legal advice on how best to proceed in your individual case. This is an example of where it can really pay off to hire a professional to assemble and present your claim. Contact us for a review of your case.

Do you need to bring a claim to the Employment Tribunal or the county court?
Why are tribunals better than court? There is much more to winning your case than simply being in the right, our specialist employment solicitors know all the laws and tactics, to make sure you get the best chance at a fair settlement. Get in contact with us and see how we can help.

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This content is provided free of charge for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. No responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by any member of our company. For employment law advice please get in contact and speak to your employment law solicitors.
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