The introduction of tribunal fees has caused no shortage of comment and turmoil, including applications for judicial review in both England and Scotland. Understandably so, as there can be no doubt as to the impact of fees - statistics show that there is around a 60% reduction in claims made since the new fee regime was introduced.
With this background, the Government yesterday announced that it is commencing its review into the impact of Employment Tribunal fees.
The objectives of the review
The Ministry of Justice stated the four terms of reference which the review will cover. For many, the term of most importance will be the first:
“To review the impact of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals and the Employment Appeals Tribunal, including the scheme of fee remissions, to determine how successful this has been in achieving the original objectives:
a. financial: transfer a proportion of the costs from the taxpayer to those who use the tribunal where they can afford to do so;
b. behavioural: to encourage parties to seek alternative ways of resolving their disputes; and
c. justice: maintain access to justice.”
The maintenance of access to justice objective (in light of the reduction in claims raised in the tribunal) will no doubt be a focus of this review, and certainly the consultation. The remaining terms of reference include gathering evidence to support the review’s analysis and considering other factors which may have influenced trends in the number of Employment Tribunal cases. Ultimately, the final objective of the review is to make recommendations for any changes to the structure and level of fees for proceedings in the Employment Tribunals and the Employment Appeals Tribunal, including recommendations for streamlining procedures to reduce costs.
Points to note
Following the publication of these objectives, there are two clear points of interest.
1. When will the review be completed?
Within the actual Terms of Reference there is no mention of a timescale. However, an accompanying statement noted that the review is expected to be completed later in the year, which shall be followed with a consultation process on any proposals for reforms to the fees and remissions scheme.
2. Which parliament will have control over tribunal fees in Scotland?
The second point in more political in nature. The Scotland Bill 2015-16 – which will devolve more powers to the Scottish Parliament – is currently making its way through the Commons. The bill contains provisions to devolve control of the tribunals system (including employment tribunals). Given the political landscape in Scotland, it may well be that, by the time this review and ensuing consultation is completed, those of us in this country may be facing a differing tribunal regime in any event.
We will keep you updated as to the progress. If you would like advice on any aspect of the tribunal process, please contact Scott Milligan on 0141 227 9408 or contact another member of our employment team.