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Employment tribunal fees are barring access to justice, say MPs

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Employment tribunal fees are barring access to justice, say MPs

MPs have called for substantial cuts to employment tribunal fees after it was revealed there had been a 70 per cent drop in cases since they were introduced.

The cross-party Justice Select Committee said the fees of up to £1,200 introduced in 2013 were having a “significant” impact on justice.

“In many cases the existence of fees erects a disincentive for employers to resolve disputes at an early stage,” it said.

“The arguments presented to us by the Government in this inquiry … have not swayed us from our conclusion, on the evidence, that the regime of employment tribunal fees has had a significant adverse impact on access to justice for meritorious claims.”

The mainly-Conservative group has called for a substantial reduction in the fees charged for bringing cases to a tribunal. Particular attention was drawn to women alleging discrimination because of maternity or pregnancy.

The fees were introduced with the aim of having the court user pay for the cost of the case, or even exceed that cost, but the committee concluded that setting fees at this level requires particular care and strong justification.

Committee Chair Bob Neill MP said: “Where there is conflict between the objectives of achieving full cost recovery and preserving access to justice, the latter must prevail.”

The Law Society welcomed the report. President Jonathan Smithers said: “The Law Society and the solicitors’ profession have raised repeated concerns, in written submissions and oral evidence, now echoed by the Justice Select Committee, that punitive courts and tribunals fee increases are denying citizens and businesses the right to justice. The government must now heed the views of experts from across and beyond the legal profession.

“We welcome and reiterate the committee’s unequivocal declaration that access to justice must prevail over generating revenue when the government is setting court and tribunal fees.”

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “People are being priced out of challenging employers that dismiss them unfairly, discriminate against them or withhold wages.

“Four in five people who we help with problems at work would be put off making a claim to an employment tribunal because of high fees. Many people would have to save for six months to afford fees of £1,200, and for some people the fees are higher than the amount they are claiming.

“The justice select committee is right to highlight that at their current level employment tribunal fees put access to justice at risk. The Government should use this opportunity to consider how they can make employment tribunals a more affordable option.”