England: Urgent changes needed to restore access to justice to Employment Tribunal system

Lord Dyson

Major changes are urgently needed to restore an acceptable level of access to the employment tribunals system, according to the Justice Committee in its report on recent and proposed changes to fees for court users in the civil and family courts and tribunals.

The introduction of issue fees and hearing fees for claimants in employment tribunals in July 2013 has led to a drop of almost 70 per cent in the number of cases brought.

The report raises serious concerns about the quality of the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) research.

It shares the view expressed by the senior judiciary and some others who gave evidence that it does not provide a sufficient basis to justify the proposals. Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, described it as “lamentable”. The chair of the Bar Council described the research undertaken in relation to the domestic effects of fees as “insignificant” and the president of the Law Society said it was “poor.”

There has been a lengthy delay in the publication of the government’s 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.

The committee found it unacceptable 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.

The number of employment tribunal cases brought by single individuals declined by about 67 per cent to around 4,500 per quarter from October 2014 to June 2015, and the number of cases brought by more than one person (multiple claims) declined by 72 per cent from 1500 per quarter in the year to June 2014 to around 400 per quarter since October 2013.

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 per cent; unauthorised deductions from wages, down 56 per cent; unfair dismissal, down 72 per cent; equal pay, down 58 per cent; breach of contract, down 75 per cent, and sex discrimination, down 68 per cent.

The Discrimination Law Association argued that reduced access to tribunals had fallen disproportionately on women and those from traditionally disadvantaged groups. Rosalind Bragg of Maternity Action said that since fees had been introduced there had been a 40 per cent drop in claims for pregnancy-related detriment or dismissal.

The Committee recommended that the government should publish immediately the factual information which it has collated as part of its post implementation review of employment tribunal fees.

It added that without this information having been made available to it, its recommendations in relation to employment tribunal fees should be taken as indicating options for achieving the overall magnitude of change necessary to restore an acceptable level of access to justice to the employment tribunals system.

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