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Employment Act 2002

Section 24: Fixed period of conciliation

67.At present, ACAS has a duty to continue to seek a conciliated settlement between the employer and employee for as long as the two parties to the dispute want to carry on. This can sometimes lead to an ACAS-brokered settlement being reached at the very last moment before the case comes before an employment tribunal. The Government believes that on occasions this is the result of the parties being unwilling to focus on the importance of agreement until the reality of the tribunal hearing is upon them. But delayed settlements cost time and resource to the parties involved, to ACAS and to the tribunal services. The objective, therefore, is to introduce a system that encourages earlier conciliated settlement where this is possible, without preventing last minute settlements if there is good reason for them.

68.This section therefore provides a power for the employment tribunal procedure regulations to introduce a fixed period for conciliation. This is achieved by amending section 7 of the Employment Tribunals Act 1996 to allow for regulations to be made enabling the postponement of the fixing of a time and place for a hearing in order for the proceedings to be settled through conciliation. It is intended that the regulations will set out the length of the conciliation period and will provide for its extension only in cases where the conciliator considers that settlement within a short additional timeframe is very likely.

69.The section provides that ACAS’s duty to conciliate cases reverts to a power to conciliate after the conciliation period has ended. This preserves ACAS’s conciliation role in all of the jurisdictions for which it currently has a duty to act, but means that once the conciliation period is over, this duty becomes a power. The effect will be that once the conciliation period is over, the conciliation officer can judge whether to continue to conciliate the case, or to pass it back to the Employment Tribunal Service (ETS) so that a time and place can be fixed for a hearing.

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