The government faces accusations of hiding a report that reveals employment tribunal fees affect women and ethnic minorities the most.
Figures show a 70% drop in cases, including a 50% fall in race discrimination cases since the introduction of fees in 2013. Dawn Butler, shadow minister for diverse communities, claims people can no longer access justice due to these fees. She claims the government knew about the difficulties some have with affording the fees.
Ms Butler told the Common’s Procedure Committee that the Ministry of Justice has been ignoring the findings of an equality impact assessment since July 2015. She claims it shows the government knew the fees would discriminate against certain groups.
However, the Ministry of Justice says that legal aid is available for discrimination cases and it will drop the fees for those who cannot afford them.
From January and March 2013 there were 1,240 race discrimination cases in the UK. Since the start of the fees, there has been 530 cases leading up to March 2015.
The government’s equalities minister says that the figures may have dropped because more people are choosing mediation instead of heading straight to tribunal.
Employment tribunal fees are now:
• £160 to lodge a “Type A” claim (such as redundancy pay, unpaid wage, holiday pay) and £230 for the first hearing
• £250 to lodge a “Type B” claim (such as discrimination, equal pay, unfair dismissal and whistleblowing) and £950 for the first hearing.
Reforming employment tribunals
Earlier this month the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy published a consultation document on reforming the employment tribunal system. Changes under consideration include online processing; delegating some of the tasks currently undertaken by Judges to caseworkers; tailoring the panels according to the expertise of the panel members and the needs of each case and ensuring that simple cases can be resolved by simple means.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy would continue to have responsibility for employment law policy. The Ministry of Justice would be responsible for procedural policy.
The government wants views on what could make some cases suitable for online determination. But it does agree with concerns that complex cases like discrimination would not be suitable.
Employment tribunals and employment appeal tribunal are expected to be the last big tribunals to be completely reformed. They are however, expected to benefit from improvements identified during reforms of other tribunals.