A long time ago in an Employment Tribunal far, far away the forces of Claimants crossed lightsabers of justice with the forces of Respondents on a daily basis. However, on 29 July 2013 Claimant forces suffered a catastrophic blow with the introduction of fees. In fact, the fee regime struck with a force that was so powerful it made the Death Star’s superlaser look like a nerf gun.
In the last quarter before the introduction of Claimant fees the Employment Tribunal received a total of 44,334 claims to be battled out across the metaphorical galaxy of England and Wales. In the same quarter in the year following the introduction of fees this figure had fallen by 81% to just 8,533 claims.
Since that time, it appears single Claimants have felt the introduction of fees most keenly amongst Claimant forces. According to the latest figures published by the Ministry of Justice, in the quarter ending March 2015 just 4,229 single claims were received by the Employment Tribunal. When compared to the last full quarter before the introduction of fees, this represents a 67% drop off in single claims received.
A new hope for Claimant forces…!
Last month the Government announced that it will make good on its promise to review the fee regime. A promise the Government made when it introduced the system back in July 2013. Given the substantial drop off in claims brought since that time, it may come as some relief to Claimant forces that the scope of the review will include, amongst other objectives, an assessment on the impact of fees on access to justice. In addition to the Government’s review, the Commons Justice Select Committee has just launched an inquiry into court and tribunal fees to consider, amongst other objectives, the impact of Claimant fees on access to justice.
Perhaps grounds for optimism amongst Claimant forces then? Well, probably not. The public sector union, Unison, has met with some resistance when challenging the current fee regime. Both of its applications for a judicial review of the system have been dismissed, although appeals against both decisions are awaited. It is interesting that the High Court’s rationale for rejecting Unison’s second application was in part that the “striking” drop in claims since the introduction of the new fee regime was not necessarily due to Claimant’s inability to pay rather than their unwillingness. Perhaps then, for Unison spearheading the vanguard of the Claimant forces, the Government’s review and the Select Committee’s inquiry into fees will both come too late, given that the Court of Appeal deliberated on Unison’s judicial review application appeal on 16 and 17 June 2015.
We now wait to see what happens over the coming months both in respect of Unison’s direct challenge to the fee regime and also the outcomes to the inquiry and the review. However, many commentators would agree that with a majority Conservative Government in power the fee system is here to stay but one outcome of the review, inquiry and appeal may well be a reduction in the level of fees charged. So are we about to witness a return to the pre July 2013 days of high volume litigation in Employment Tribunals? Well, put it this way: if you want to see a force awakened then it opens in cinemas on 18 December 2015.