As part of a review into court and tribunal fees published last week, the House of Commons Justice Committee has said that urgent changes are needed to restore access to justice in the tribunal system.
The review was also highly critical of the government’s failure to publish its own report into the introduction of fees a year after it began and six months after the government said it would be completed.
Although the committee had no objection to the principle of charging fees, it pointed out that the question was how much to charge whilst ensuring that access to justice was not undermined. It made clear that “[w]here there is conflict between the objectives of achieving cost-recovery and preserving access to justice, the latter objective must prevail”.
Given that the government’s own review was not available to the committee, it relied on evidence from public sources, finding that “the introduction of issue fees and hearing fees for claimants in employment tribunals as of 29 July 2013 led to an undisputed and precipitate drop in the number of cases brought, approaching 70 per cent”.
It therefore concluded “that the regime of employment tribunal fees has had a significant adverse impact on access to justice for meritorious claims”, not least because there was no incentive for employers to settle cases where the claimant might have difficulty raising the fee.
It has recommended that:
- The overall fee should be substantially reduced
- The binary system of Type A and B fees should be replaced either by a single fee, a three-tier fee structure or a level of fee related to the amount claimed, with a fee waiver if the amount is below a determined level
- Disposable capital and monthly income thresholds for fee remission should be increased
- The three-month time limit for bringing a claim should be reviewed for women alleging maternity or pregnancy discrimination
Iain Birrell of Thompsons Solicitors commented “Looking at the evidence before the Committee, its conclusions are hardly a surprise. They are though a welcome addition to the mass of criticism of the tribunal fees from all quarters. The Government’s own review must have reached the same conclusion and this is presumably why it is being sat on. Mind you, given Shailesh Vara MP’s attempts to persuade the Committee that night was in fact day in respect of certain factual aspects of his evidence, its contents might yet be surprise when it is finally published.”
To read the report in full, go to: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmjust/167/167.pdf