In July 2013, the Coalition Government introduced tribunal fees to underpin its three objectives; (1) transfer some of the costs from the taxpayer to those who use the tribunal where they can afford to do so; (2) encourage alternative dispute resolution; and (3) maintain access to justice. At the outset the Coalition Government committed to a review of the system and, although not stated in the Conservative manifesto, the new Government has now agreed the Ministry of Justice’s terms of reference to review the reforms. The review will look at:-
- employment tribunal data on the volume of cases, case progression and case outcomes;
- the views of court and tribunal users;
- the general trend in the number of cases appearing at employment tribunals;
- any consequences arising as a result of an improved economy on the number of employees being dismissed;
- to what extent weak or unmeritorious claims have been discouraged by employment tribunal fees; and
- if there has been any impact because of changes in employment law e.g. Early Conciliation.
Following the introduction of fees, claims have fallen by approximately 80 percent and have continued to fall. Although this is good news for employers, the reforms have been criticised for depriving workers access to justice as they now have to pay an issue and hearing fee should they wish to commence proceedings in the Employment Tribunal.
In 2014, UNISON launched two challenges to the introduction of tribunal fees in the High Court by Judicial Review, arguing that the fees are unlawful as they prevented workers from accessing justice and because of their disproportionate impact on women. Both challenges failed but Unison has appealed to the Court of Appeal.
The review is expected to be concluded later in 2015 and it remains to be seen to what extent, if any, the system will change as a result of either UNISON’s appeal or the review.
Given the striking trend that tribunal fees have had on the volume of claims in the past few years, it follows that any reduction in the fees could increase the number of claims. For more information, please contact a member of the Employment Team.