The issue of tribunal fees has generated a huge amount of comment within the world of employment, and no shortage of controversy, since their introduction in the summer of 2013. Designed as a way of making the tribunal system more sustainable, by requiring users to make a financial contribution in the form of application and hearing fees, they have resulted in a collapse in the number of claims, leading many commentators to argue that they actually serve as a barrier to justice.
Attempts to overhaul or overturn the fee regime, principally in the form of Unison’s judicial review application, have proven to be unsuccessful. Despite this, there are currently two sets of inquiries underway into the effectiveness of fees, one of which has been instituted by the Ministry of Justice, and the other which was launched by the House of Commons Justice Select Committee.
The House of Commons Justice Select Committee issued a call for evidence and set a deadline of 30 September 2015 for submission, which has now expired. They have now published the written evidence which was submitted to the inquiry, which makes for interesting reading (relatively speaking!).
Many of those who submitted evidence to the enquiry pointed to the collapse in the number of claims, arguing that this had greatly reduced access to justice and was reason enough for the abolition of fees. Others spoke of the need to reduce the current fee levels, and make the remission scheme easier to access. Even the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), an organisation which was initially supportive of the introduction of fees, acknowledged that the fee regime should be looked at and reformed if the MoJ concludes that it has acted as a barrier to justice.
Perhaps one of the more inventive and thought provoking submissions to the enquiry came from the Employment Tribunals themselves, in the form of the President and Regional Employment Judges. They made a number of suggestions for reform, including:
- A three tier system of fees, replacing the current two-tier system
- Special discounts where claimants use online and email service rather than paper based submissions
- Introducing charges for preliminary hearings
- Requiring respondents to pay a fee when they submit a response, and for the hearing itself
- Reforming the remission scheme to make it more accessible
- Enabling fees to be automatically repayable in the event of a successful claim, rather than something which has to be applied for.
It remains to be seen whether any of the submissions actually find their way into tangible proposals for reform by the MoJ. We will of course keep you updated on any developments in this area as and when they happen.