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Access to Justice Damaged by Tribunal Fees

A recent report from the UK Parliament’s Justice Committee has called on the UK Government to act to restore an acceptable level of access to the employment tribunals system. It claims that the introduction in July 2013 of issue fees and hearing fees for claimants has led to a drop of almost 70% in the number of cases brought.

The Committee said that it had no objection to the overall principle of charging people to use the court system, because it believes that some degree of financial risk is an important discipline for those considering legal action. However, it is important to determine what is an acceptable amount to charge, taking into account the need to preserve access to justice: this will vary between jurisdictions and different types of cases, says the Committee.

"Where there is conflict between the objectives of achieving full cost recovery and preserving access to justice, the latter must prevail,” commented Committee Chair Bob Neill MP.

The Committee criticised the Government for the lengthy delay in the publication of its post-implementation review of the impact of employment tribunal fees, which aims to assess their effect against the three main objectives of:

  • transferring some of the cost away from the taxpayer and towards those who can afford to pay;
  • encouraging parties to seek alternative methods of dispute resolution;
  • and maintaining access to justice.

It is unacceptable, said the Committee, that the Government has not reported the results of its review one year after it began and six months after it said it would be completed.

Statistics provided by the TUC and Unison comparing cases brought in the first three months of 2013 and 2015 showed the following reductions in the number of cases for the most common types of claims:

  • Working Time Directive, down 78%;
  • unauthorised deductions from wages, down 56%;
  • unfair dismissal, down 72%;
  • equal pay, down 58%;
  • breach of contract, down 75%, and
  • sex discrimination, down 68%.

"The Ministry of Justice has argued that changes to employment law and the improving economic situation, as well as the pre-existing downward trend in the number of employment tribunal cases being brought, may account for part of the reduction in the number of cases,” said Bob Neill. “These may indeed be facts but the timing and scale of the reduction following immediately from the introduction of fees can leave no doubt that the clear majority of the decline is attributable to fees."

The Committee made a number of recommendations for change, including:

  • a substantial reduction in the overall quantum of fees;
  • replacement of the binary Type A/Type B categorisation of claims according to complexity;
  • an increase in disposable capital and monthly income thresholds for fee remission; and
  • further special consideration of the position of women alleging maternity or pregnancy discrimination, for whom, at the least, the time limit of three months for bringing a claim should be reviewed.

Contains Parliamentary information licensed under the Open Parliament Licence v3.0.

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