Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘access to justice

Employment Tribunal fees: back to the drawing board

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Until the coming into force of the Employment Tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal Fees Order 2013,  a claimant could bring and pursue proceedings in an Employment Tribunal (ET) and appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) without paying any fee.
The Order created a somewhat complex fee tariff in which different fees were paid, depending on the type of action being brought before the tribunal. In addition, a fee had to be paid at the start of proceedings, another when the case went to a hearing. Poor claimants who fell below defined income and capital limits could get their fees remitted.
The Government’s objective in imposing the fees were said to be
(i) Financial: to transfer a proportion of the costs of the ETs to users (where they
can afford to pay);
(ii) Behavioural: to encourage people to use alternative services to help resolve
their disputes; and
(iii) Justice: to protect access to justice.getting a better balance between what the taxpayer funds and what the litigant funds.

An official review of the impact of the fee changes, published in January 2017 concluded that, broadly, these objectives had been achieved. (See this blog, February 2017)

The Supreme Court has, however, come to a quite different conclusion. In R (on the application of UNISON) (Appellant) v Lord Chancellor (Respondent) [2017] UKSC 51, the Court concluded unanimously that the Fees Order was ultra vires (that is to say that the Lord Chancellor did not have the power to make the order) and so quashed it.

There are at least three reasons why the judgements in this case are particularly interesting.

First, in most cases where the validity of a Statutory Instrument is challenged in the courts, the argument turns on fairly precise questions of statutory interpretation – were the rule-making powers in an Act of Parliament sufficient to give the relevant Minister the power to make the order being challenged?

In this case a much broader, constitutional approach was adopted. The essence of the argument was that the impact of the Order was so dramatic (the numbers of cases coming to both the ET and the EAT had fallen dramatically since the introduction of the fees) that they had the effect of denying potential claimants access to justice.Lord Reed, in the principal judgement, refers back to a number of historic legal texts, including Magna Carta, to conclude that it is a constitutional principle recognised in common law, that people should have access to justice.

Second, the judgement relies heavily on a number of empirical studies to show that the effect of impact of the fees rules was quite disproportionate. Using hypothetical examples, the Justices conclude that ordinary people on average earnings would have to forgo weeks if not months of expenditure on anything other than the most basic necessities to save the money needed to pay the relevant fees. The Court decided that the fees thus imposed a quite disproportionate burden on those who might have an arguable case to take to the ET or EAT. Certainly the cosy conclusions of the impact review, mentioned at the start of this note, were totally rejected by the Supreme Court

Finally, Lord Reed makes a number of  interesting and important observations about the rule of law and the functions of courts and tribunals in supporting the rule of law. (See in particular paras 66-85 of the judgement). Here I set out brief extracts from the judgement:

The importance of the rule of law is not always understood. Indications of a lack
of understanding include the assumption that the administration of justice is merely a public service like any other, that courts and tribunals are providers of services to
the “users” who appear before them, and that the provision of those services is of
value only to the users themselves and to those who are remunerated for their
participation in the proceedings. [There is an] assumption that the consumption of ET and EAT services without full cost recovery results in a loss to society, since “ET and EAT use does not lead to gains to society that exceed the sum of the gains to
consumers and producers of these services”.
[However] …the idea that bringing a claim before a court or a tribunal is a purely private activity, and the related idea that such claims provide no broader social benefit, are demonstrably untenable….
Courts exist in order to ensure that the laws made by Parliament, and the common law created by the courts themselves, are applied and enforced. That role includes ensuring that the executive branch of government carries out its functions in accordance with the law. In order for the courts to perform that role, people must in principle have unimpeded access to them. Without such access, laws are liable to become a dead letter, the work done by Parliament may be rendered nugatory, and the democratic election of Members of Parliament may become a meaningless charade. That is why the courts do not merely provide a public service like any other.
Every day in the courts and tribunals of this country, the names of people who brought cases in the past live on as shorthand for the legal rules and principles which their cases established. Their cases form the basis of the advice given to those whose cases are now before the courts, or who need to be advised as to the basis on which their claim might fairly be settled, or who need to be advised that their case is hopeless. The written case lodged on behalf of the Lord Chancellor in this appeal itself cites over 60 cases, each of which bears the name of the individual involved, and each of which is relied on as establishing a legal proposition. The Lord Chancellor’s own use of these materials refutes the idea that taxpayers derive no benefit from the cases brought by other people….
But the value to society of the right of access to the courts is not confined to cases in which the courts decide questions of general importance. People and businesses need to know, on the one hand, that they will be able to enforce their rights if they have to do so, and, on the other hand, that if they fail to meet their obligations, there is likely to be a remedy against them. It is that knowledge which underpins everyday economic and social relations….
When Parliament passes laws creating employment rights, for example, it does so not merely in order to confer benefits on individual employees, but because it has decided that it is in the public interest that those rights should be given effect. It does not envisage that every case of a breach of those rights will result in a claim before an ET. But the possibility of claims being brought by employees whose rights are infringed must exist, if employment relationships are to be based on respect for those rights. Equally, although it is often desirable that claims arising out of alleged
breaches of employment rights should be resolved by negotiation or mediation,
those procedures can only work fairly and properly if they are backed up by the
knowledge on both sides that a fair and just system of adjudication will be available
if they fail. Otherwise, the party in the stronger bargaining position will always prevail….
The Justices accepted that a system of fees that had the objectives set out above – of reducing the cost to the tax payer, encouraging settlement and deterring weak cases – were quite lawful. But they concluded that in this case the fees structure had gone too far. In addition they noted that the practical outcome of the fees imposed by the order was to result in a significant reduction in the money being paid into the system by parties to proceedings. In short, the price for access being charged was too high for the Government to be able to achieve its principal objective of increasing revenue into the court/tribunal system.
It seems clear to me that the Government will not abandon its fees policy – either in relation to ETs and EATs, or indeed to other parts of the courts and tribunals system where fees are imposed. But those devising future schemes will have to take into account considerations that go well beyond those that were initially taken into accounts by Ministers and their civil servant advisers.
The full text of the judgement is at https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2015-0233-judgment.pdf
The press summary is at https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2015-0233-press-summary.pdf
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Review of Civil Litigation Costs: Supplementary Report – Lord Justice Jackson

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When Lord Woolf started out on his major programme of reform of the Civil Justice system – which came into effect with the introduction of new Civil Procedure Rules in 1999 – he was concerned about a wide range of issues. The most intractable of the problems he identified was how could the costs of litigation be kept proportionate to the subject matter and value of the dispute.

While there was considerable agreement that many of the changes he recommended had worked well, his proposals on the control of costs had not been as successful as they should have been.

Thus in 2009, Lord Justice Jackson was asked to undertake more work on the costs of civil litigation. His first report on the issue was published in 2010. (Noted in this blog in March 2010)

In 2016, Jackson was asked to revisit this topic, on which he has now published (July 2017) this supplementary report.

As Jackson notes:

In England and Wales, the winning party in litigation is entitled to recover costs from the losing party. The traditional approach has been that the winner adds up its costs at the end and then claims back as much as it can from the loser. That is a recipe for runaway costs.

He therefore argues (as indeed he did in his first report) that there are two fundamental ways to prevent runaway costs.

(i) a general scheme of fixed recoverable costs , i.e. those costs that the winning party can claim from the losing party;

(ii) imposing a budget for each individual case (“costs budgeting”)

Although fixed recoverable costs (FRC) had been introduced for  limited categories of cases before he reported in 2010, he recommended that FRC should be introduced for all fast-track cases. In its response to his first report, the Government did not at the time go that far.

The introduction of costs budgeting was also regarded initially by the legal profession as very controversial, and was not universally welcomed. In this later report, however, evidence from witnesses to his review stated that the system for costs budgeting had now settled down and was widely seen to be working pretty well.

At the heart of this review, there are the following recommendations:

  1. FRC should be introduced for all fast track cases. The amount of costs which are recoverable are laid out in a grid. Different sums are permitted for different stages of proceedings.
  2. Above the fast track, Jackson recommends the creation of a new ‘intermediate’ track for certain claims up to £100,000 which can be tried in three days or less, with no more than two expert witnesses giving oral evidence on each side. The intermediate track will have streamlined procedures and its own grid of FRC.
  3. Clinical negligence claims are often of low financial value, but of huge concern to the individuals on both sides. The complexity of such cases means that they are usually unsuited to either the fast track or the proposed intermediate track. For these Jackson recommends that the Department of Health and the Civil Justice Council should set up a joint working party with both claimant and defendant representatives to develop a bespoke process for handling clinical negligence claims up to £25,000. That bespoke process should have a grid of FRC attached. This scheme will capture most clinical negligence claims.
  4. In relation to business cases, Jackson states that it is essential that small and medium-sized enterprises  should have access to justice. The Federation of Small Businesses argued that there should be an FRC regime for commercial cases up to £250,000; the costs levels must be reasonable; they must balance incentives and “reduce the costs of going to law for small businesses”; there must be rigorous case management of cases subject to this regime; and there must be investment in modern IT systems to speed up court processes. Jackson does not think that all business cases require FRC up to the level suggested by the Federation. Instead he recommends a voluntary pilot of a ‘capped costs’ regime for business and property cases up to £250,000, with streamlined procedures and capped recoverable costs up to £80,000. If the pilot is successful, the regime could be rolled out more widely for use in appropriate cases.
  5. Jackson recommends measures to limit recoverable costs in judicial review claims, by extending the protective costs rules which are currently reserved for environmental cases. As he observes: Citizens must be able to challenge the executive without facing crushing costs liabilities if they lose.
  6. In relation to costs management, the budgeting process will continue to apply to proceedings falling outside the scope of FRC. One problem is that costs management cannot currently apply to costs incurred before the costs management process takes place. Jackson thinks that at some point further consideration may need to be given to setting a limited to these incurred costs, but that should not be considered further at this stage.

It is not known what the response of Government to these proposals will be. Any changes would be subject to further consultations.

The 2017 Jackson review may be accessed at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/fixed-recoverable-costs-supplemental-report-online-2-1.pdf

 

Written by lwtmp

September 29, 2017 at 3:35 pm

Fees in Immigration and Asylum appeals: Government proposals

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In May 2016, I noted here that the Government had published a consultation paper on proposals for new fees, to be charged in cases being brought to the Immigration and Appeals Chambers of both the First Tier and Upper Tier Tribunal.

The fees were to be set at a level which would enable the Government to recover the full cost of running those tribunals. Huge increases were proposed.

As might be anticipated, the overwhelming number of those responding to the Consultation were against these proposed changes, arguing that the new fees would act as a significant barrier to access to justice in such cases.

As might also be anticipated, the Government has – in the main – not been persuaded by the arguments made against the proposed fee increases.

In its response to the consultation, published in September 2016, the Government has announced that it will be proceeding with the proposed changes as soon as possible, though the precise dates are not yet determined.

For the full summary of responses to the consultation and the Government statement on polucy development, see https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/553387/proposals-imm-asylum-chamber-consultation-response.pdf

 

Written by lwtmp

September 23, 2016 at 10:38 am

Posted in chapter 6

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Review of the Courts and Tribunals estate: consultation

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On 16 July 2015, the Government published proposals for reviewing the numbers of courts and tribunals buildings, with as view to amalgamating some and closing others.

At present (and despite recent closures) Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service still operates 460 courts and tribunal hearing centres across England and Wales. The estate costs taxpayers around half a billion pounds each year, and at present, much of it is underused. For example, in 2014, over a third of all courts and tribunals were empty for more than fifty per cent of their available hearing time.

The new consultation puts forward proposals that aim to reduce this surplus capacity. It proposes the closure of 91 court/tribunal buildings. These represent 16% of hearing rooms across the estate which are, on average, used for only a third of their available time. That is equivalent to fewer than 2 out of 5 days in a week. Indeed, the majority of these courts are not used for at least two thirds of their available time, and one in three are not used three quarters of the time.

The arguments against closure tend to fall into two categories. First, is that courts are often landmark buildings, whose closure will adversely affect specific communities. The second, is that closure will reduce the ability of users to get to court for hearings. On the latter point, the Government notes:

1. Attending court is rare for most people. It will still be the case that, after these changes, over 95% of citizens will be able to reach their required court within an hour by car. This represents a change of just 1 percentage point for Crown and magistrates’ courts and 2 percentage points for County Courts. The proportion of citizens able to reach a tribunal within an hour by car will remain unchanged at 83%.

2. To ensure that access to justice is maintained, even in more rural locations, the Government is committed to providing alternative ways for users to access court/tribunal services. That can mean using civic and other public buildings, such as town halls, for hearings instead of underused, poorly-maintained permanent courts.

3. In my view by far the most important argument is that the Government argues that it is reforming the courts and tribunal service so that it meets the needs of modern day users. As it brings in digital technology for better and more efficient access to justice (which hitherto has been pitifully slow), fewer people will need to physically be in a court.

The full consultation is at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/proposal-on-the-provision-of-court-and-tribunal-estate-in-england-and-wales. The Consultation runs until early October 2015.

On the question of amalgamation of existing buildings, the Government states that it is not consulting on these matters but will be liasing with stakeholders in the places affected.

Written by lwtmp

July 26, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Revolution in the Justice system?

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On 23 June 2015, the Lord Chancellor delivered a major speech on his vision for the development of the Justice system. Mr Gove is not shy of taking on existing established practices – witness his battles with the teachers when he was Secretary of State for Education under the Coalition Government.

In his speech, entitled What does a one nation justice policy look like? he argues that the justice system is in need of fundamental reform if is it to deliver access to justice to ordinary people.

A potentially very important difference between what he was trying to do in the world of education and what he now seeks to do to the justice system is that for the latter, much of the initiative for reform is coming from the judiciary itself. They see the need for better use of court facilities, fundamental investment in IT which would enable much legal work to be done without attendance at courts, support for new ideas – in particular in civil justice – endorsing proposals recently set out by Justice in its report Civil Justice in an Age of Austerity. (see this blog, entry for 5 May 2015)

First reactions to the Lord Chancellor’s speech can be heard in a special edition of the BBC programme Law in Action which was broadcast on the same day. The discussion – by Sir Stanley Burnton, Dame Hazel Genn and Keir Starmer – provides a useful basis for understanding what may start to unfold in the justice system over the next five years

What is absolutely certain is that anyone starting the study of law should be aware of what is in the pipeline – things are likely to change pretty quickly.

To read the speech go to https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/what-does-a-one-nation-justice-policy-look-like

To hear the Law in Action Broadcast go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05zktnf#auto

The Centre for Justice Innovation, whose work is mentioned in the programme has a website at http://www.justiceinnovation.org/

Litigation (crowd) funding – a new approach

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Litigation funding is normally associated with high value commercial cases. Litigation funders provide the financial resources for high cost litigation and commercial arbitration on the basis that they will receive a return on their investment – often a percentage of damages recovered or agreed. Litigation funders will not take on personal injury cases or consumer cases because the damages involved are (usually) too low

But an article in the Sunday Times 21 June 2015 caught my attention. Under the headline Man, 87, sues care home for right to kiss his wife it was reported that an 87 year old man was seeking to establish a right to kiss his wife, who lives in a care home suffering from dementia.

At the end of the article it was stated that the man’s lawyers were working pro bono but also they were seeking to raise £4000 for legal fees through a new company called CrowdJustice.

Launched on 25 May 2015, CrowdJustice seeks to raise modest sums – up to £5000 – to help defray costs in cases which the company thinks have some social importance, such as the treatment of the elderly and vulnerable or have a wider community impact.

An example of the latter is the case being brought by a Colombian man, Gilberto Torres, who is  fighting a legal case before the UK High Court in order to end the impunity of British oil companies’ actions abroad. He claims that

Me and my family have had our lives destroyed because I tried to take a stand when I saw human rights and environmental abuses being committed to protect the interests of BP in Colombia, where I worked as an engineer. I was kidnapped and tortured in retribution, and now we’ve been forced to leave Colombia and live in exile. Help us get our lives back, and help expose in court the human rights violations committed by fossil fuel companies abroad.

At the moment, CrowdJustice is taking cases on an invitation-only basis. But it inviting those who think they may have a case that affects their community to get in touch.

The website states:

When someone has a court case that they feel passionate about and that affects others in their community, they can set up a Case Page on CrowdJustice that explains what the case is about and why they need help funding it. That person – the Case Owner – sets a deadline and funding target of the amount they need to raise to help offset the costs of taking their case forward. It’s up to you to support them, help spread the word and make pledges to help them meet the funding target.

Only when the funding target is met do the pledges get collected and backers’ cards get charged. If the funding target is not met, the pledges made do not get collected.

When a case is successfully funded, a Case Owner will keep in touch and update backers about the latest developments in a case.

Unlike litigation funding, those who invest in these community cases will not usually see any return on their investment (unless they have pledged more than £1000, where they may receive a percentage of the sum pledged back). Any surplus  at the end of a case is paid to the Access to Justice Foundation.

This is an innovative approach to the challenge of enabling access to justice in cases of potential social importance. For more details go to https://www.crowdjustice.co.uk/

For more details on the very different work of commercial litigation funders go to the home page of the Association of Litigation Funders of England and Wales at http://associationoflitigationfunders.com/.
This site gives links to the member companies who are offering litigation funding in commercial cases.

Impact of fees on the work of Employment Tribunals – post implementation review

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When fees were introduced in the Employment Tribunals, in July 2013, the government made a commitment to review their impact. On 11 June 2015, the Government announced the start of that review.

The original objectives of the policy were:

  • to transfer some of the cost from the taxpayer to those who use the service, where they can afford to do so
  • to encourage the use of alternative dispute resolution services, for example, ACAS conciliation
  • to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the tribunal

The review will consider how effective the introduction of fees has been at meeting the original objectives, while maintaining access to justice.

The review will also consider the effectiveness of the new fee remissions scheme, which was introduced in October 2013.

The review will take into account a wide range of evidence including:

  • tribunal data on case volumes, case progression and case outcomes]
  • qualitative research on the views of court and tribunal users
  • the general trend of the number of cases appearing at tribunals before the fees were introduced
  • any consequences arising as a result of an improved economy on the number of people being dismissed
  • to what extent there has been discouragement of weak or unmeritorious claims
  • whether there has been any impact because of changes in employment law; and other reasons for changes in user behaviour

The terms of reference for the review can be seen at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/employment-tribunal-fees-post-implementation-review

The review is expected to be completed later in the year. The Government states that it will consult on any proposals for reforms to the fees and remissions scheme.

This exercise is likely to generate some controversy given the significant decline in the numbers of cases now being taken to the Employment Tribunal.

Written by lwtmp

June 16, 2015 at 2:39 pm