Tribunal Fees Are Finally Being Reviewed
The Ministry of Justice are conducting a long awaited review of Tribunal Fees in which they intend to review the impact the introduction of fees has had and potentially make recommendations for changes to the structure, level of fees and ways to streamline procedures in the Employment Tribunals.
The President and Regional Employment Judges of the Employment Tribunals (England & Wales) have made their submissions to the review. They have, among others, made the following key observations:
- The net income generated by fees does not cover the running costs of the Employment Tribunal system as intended by the Government;
- There is little evidence that fees have achieved the purpose of encourage parties to seek alternative ways of resolving their disputes.
- The introduction of fees has had an adverse effect upon access to justice, and fee remission has not served to moderate this.
- There has been no obvious reduction in weak or unmeritorious claims.
Along with the observations the submission makes several recommendations, some of which include:
- A reclassification of the fees systems to replace Type A and Type B claims to three tracks (Short Track, Standard Track and Open Track)
- A discount for presentation online, for dealing with correspondence electronically and for payment online. A further discount could be offered for dealing with “hearings” online or on the papers (that is, without a hearing in person), where it is appropriate to do so.
- A recommendation that respondents become jointly liable with the claimant to pay response fees and hearing fees – if a claim has not been settled or withdrawn as a result of Acas early conciliation then both parties should contribute towards the costs of taking it through the Tribunal process.
- The fees might be treated as automatically repayable as part of any award.
Unfortunately the review and the submission prove that the Government seems to have fundamentally failed two of its major objectives with the Tribunal restructure i.e. to fund the running costs of the Tribunal and to eliminate weak and prospect less claims. The system is simply not working, and reform needs to happen. From a personal perspective it is almost refreshing to see the tribunals hold the same opinion that I am sure many legal professionals and lay people have had since the inception of fees. Hopefully the Government will swallow its pride on this matter, admit they were wrong and accept the recommendations.
On a side note it is also interesting to see suggestions of further isomorphism of the tribunal to the civil courts and I am sure, if done correctly, this could only serve to reduce any element of confusion for practitioners working in multiple areas and members of the public making or defending claims.