The introduction of employment tribunal fees has led to a drop of almost 70% in the number of cases, according to a report published today by the House of Commons’ justice committee. MPs also called for the increase in the divorce petition fee – from £410 to £550 – to be scrapped and said it was ‘unwise’ for ministers to seek full cost recovery in immigration and asylum cases.
The MPs reflected serious concerns about the quality of the research quoting Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, describing it as ‘lamentable’. ‘We understand the financial pressures on ministers in a department with unprotected spending,’ the committee chair Bob Neill said. ‘We also understand that the MoJ does not always have the luxury to be as rigorous and meticulous in preparing the ground for controversial policies as it might wish. But it is important that in such circumstances the Ministry is frank about that fact and does not represent the quality of its evidence base to be higher than it is.’
MPs had no objection to the principle of charging fees to court users and argued that that some financial risk was ‘an important discipline for those considering legal action’. ‘Where there is conflict between the objectives of achieving full cost recovery and preserving access to justice, the latter must prevail,’ said the barrister and Conservative MP Bob Neill.
The Bar Council challenged using court fees ‘as a tax to cross-subsidise other parts of the courts system’. ‘While we must acknowledge the budget pressures the Ministry of Justice is facing, it does not mean a “shot in the dark” approach to imposing court and tribunal fees,’ said chairman of the Bar, Chantal-Aimee Doerries QC. The report was ‘further evidence that court fees are acting as a deterrent to those seeking justice’. ‘This is very clear from the sudden drop in employment tribunal cases following the fees being introduced,’ she said. The Bar Council called on the MoJ to postpone plans to restrict access to the Immigration & Asylum Tribunal by increasing fees by 500%.
‘The MoJ’s evidence base for the charges was flimsy, and insufficient time was allowed to assess the impact of other, concurrent changes in the civil justice system. The reality is that employees, small businesses and others who may have a legitimate claim are being denied the chance to pursue it because of fees which they cannot afford.’
Chantal-Aimee Doerries QC
Nigel Shepherd, chair of the family lawyers’ group Resolution, welcomed the MPs call to rescind the rise in fees for divorce petitions. ‘The committee rightly recognises that this rise effectively amounted to a new tax on divorce; and that by raising it, people were being charged around twice what it actually costs to process a divorce petition,’ he said.
The number of employment tribunal cases brought by individuals collapsed by about 67% from October 2014 to June 2015 and multiple claims fell by 72%. According to the TUC and Unison, cases brought in the first three months of 2013 and 2015 showed a huge drop off: working time directive, down by 78%; unauthorised deductions from wages, 56%; unfair dismissal, 72%; equal pay, 58%; breach of contract, 75%; and sex discrimination, 68%. Maternity Action reported a 40% drop in claims for pregnancy-related detriment or dismissal.
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