Legal battle to block employment tribunal fees

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tribunal2Employment lawyers went to the Court of Session this week to halt plans by the Ministry of Justice to introduce fees for those wanting to proceed through the employment tribunal service with claims for lost wages, discrimination or unfair dismissal.

It could see workers forced to pay up to £950 to have the most serious cases heard following the reforms, the first of their kind since the tribunal system was set up more than 50 years ago.

The UK Government claims the changes will move some of the £74 million cost of running tribunals from the taxpayer to those who use the system.

But concerns have been raised that the fees will deter workers from pursuing bosses and restrain access to justice.

Edinburgh firm Fox and Partners sought to obtain an interim interdict to halt the introduction of the fee structure, due to be applied to new cases starting on or after July 29.

Lord Bannatyne did not issue the order but instead opted to continue to a full hearing to make further investigation into whether the introduction of fees is legal.

If they are found to be unlawful, all fees will be refunded.

During the sitting, it emerged that drafting errors relating to equal pay claims are contained within the new policy just two weeks before it is due to be implemented.

Fox and Partners said Lord Bannatyne had been critical in court of the Lord Chancellor’s departments’ conduct of the two-day hearing, stating it had been “a complete waste of time” with expenses awarded to Fox and Partners as a result.

Scottish Judiciary were unable to confirm the remark last night, with Lord Bannatyne yet to post his written opinion online.

Carol Fox, of Fox and Partners, which is currently representing 12,500 equal claim cases, said: “We are very pleased with this outcome. While we are naturally disappointed not to obtain the interdict, we are pleased that in taking this legal action against the government and the imposition of fees we have raised fundamental principles regarding access to justice.

“We have obtained very significant concessions and points of clarification from the government. Further we are delighted that we have been awarded full expenses and that the Judge agreed that we have raised very important matters of law on behalf of claimants.”

Ms Fox said the reforms would particularly impact low-paid women undertaking equal-pay claims. She added: “During the course of these proceedings it became clear that the Ministry of Justice is in disarray.

“The wise course of action would be for the Minister to take time to consider the drafting errors and the points of law as well as the 140 consultation responses. We believe that the evidence is overwhelmingly against the introduction of fees.”

Claimants will now pay in advance an issue fee to bring the case and a second hearing fee. A basic Type A claim, for areas such as holiday pay, will be £160, rising to £250 for a more complex case such as discrimination.

The hearing fees are £230 for a basic case, rising to £950 for the more serious issues.

A Ministry of Justice source did not accept that court time had been wasted, with defence presenting its case at short notice, or that the department was in disarray over the changes.

Courts Minister Helen Grant said: “It is not fair on the taxpayer to foot the entire £74m bill for people to escalate workplace disputes to a tribunal. We want people, where they can afford to do so, to pay a contribution.

“It is in everyone’s interest to avoid drawn-out disputes which emotionally damage workers and financially damage businesses. That’s why we are encouraging quicker, simpler and cheaper alternatives like mediation.

“We are pleased that the court has decided not to prevent the new fee system from coming into effect on 29 July.”

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