So, despite hardly any of the 140 organisations and individuals who responded to the Government’s consultation on employment tribunal (ET) fees expressing much, if any, support for its proposed fee structure and levels, the Government is to go ahead and introduce them anyway.
In a move that leaves me wondering quite how much the evidently pointless, seven month consultation exercise will have cost the taxpayer, the Justice Minister, Jonathan Djanogly MP, announced yesterday that application and hearing fees totalling £390 for relatively simple ET claims (e.g. unpaid wages, holiday pay, or redundancy pay), and £1,200 for all other ET claims, will be introduced from ‘summer 2013’. The consultation paper had proposed fees of £400 and £1,200 respectively, as well as a higher overall fee of £1,500 for the most complicated ET claims (e.g. discrimination). That third, higher level of fees has gone, leaving just two fee levels, and there has been a £10 reduction in the lowest level of fees. Hmm, big deal.
A tad more positively, the Ministry of Justice has dropped its discriminatory and probably unworkable proposal to require claimants to pay even higher fees where the sum claimed is more than £30,000. And there will be no additional fee for obtaining written reasons (where the judgment was delivered orally) – the Ministry of Justice has belatedly recognised that that is a fundamental right of justice.
However, the highly complex and deeply flawed civil courts fee remission scheme – described by Citizens Advice, in its response to the consultation, as simply, ‘not fit for purpose’ – is to be extended to cover ET fees, as originally proposed. And alternative proposals for a nominal, flat-rate claimant fee – from the CBI and the Scottish judiciary as well as Citizens Advice – are dismissed out of hand, on the basis that ‘it would remove a central principle of the fee proposals, which is to charge proportionately according to the typical resources required to resolve different types of claims’. In other words, the Ministry’s key aim is not to improve access to justice or the efficiency of the ET system, but simply to raise some dosh.
Indeed, Mr Djanogly does not beat around the bush: ‘It’s not fair on the taxpayer to foot the entire £84 million bill for people to escalate workplace disputes to a tribunal’. As if everyone who brings an ET claim does so as some kind of lifestyle choice. There’s nothing from the Minister about the ET system being there to protect vulnerable workers from exploitation by rogue businesses, to the benefit of the vast majority of law-abiding employers.
Presumably, it is now only a matter of time before Government ministers announce fees for those who ‘choose’ to use the fire, ambulance or police services. I mean, why should perfectly healthy taxpayers pay foot the bill for other people’s free rides to hospital? And maybe the governments of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan that ‘choose’ to be invaded by our armed forces should pay a fee too? Oh hang on, we tried that at Versailles, and that didn’t work out too well.
Will Mr Djanogly’s ET fees work out any better? Answers on a postcard, please.
Richard Dunstan is a policy wonk who has worked for Citizens Advice, the National Audit Office, the Law Society, and Amnesty International UK.