Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘employment tribunals

Employment Tribunals fees: payback scheme

leave a comment »

In R (on the application of UNISON) (Appellant) v Lord Chancellor (Respondent) [2017] UKSC 51 (noted in this blog on 1 October 2017) the Supreme Court held that the fees being charged for taking cases to Employment Tribunals were so high that they were effectively barring access to justice. In consequence the Court ruled that the fee scheme  was unlawful. The Government has now announced arrangements for the refunding of those fees. Stage 1 of the refund scheme became operative on 20 October 2017.

It is clear that the Government plan to introduce a revised scheme which they hope will meet the Supreme Court’s objections.

For the announcement see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/opening-stage-of-employment-tribunal-fee-refund-scheme-launched

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Written by lwtmp

October 30, 2017 at 5:11 pm

Employment Tribunal fees: back to the drawing board

leave a comment »

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

Transforming the Justice System: the Prisons and Courts Bill 2017

leave a comment »

Enromous changes to the ways in which courts – both criminal and civil – and tribunals operate have already been foreshadowed in a number of policy documents published during 2016. Parts 2 to 4 of the Prisons and Courts Bill contain provisions that will give statutory authority to the changes that have been proposed.

The headline provisions may be set out as follows:

Part 2 creates new procedures in civil, family, tribunal and criminal matters.

It makes changes to court procedures in the Crown Court and magistrates’ courts to make processes and case management more efficient.

It allows some offenders charged with summary-only, non-imprisonable offences to be convicted and given standard penalties using a new online procedure.

It extends the use of live audio and video links, and ‘virtual’ hearings where no parties are present in the court room but attend by telephone or video conferencing facilities.

It makes provision which will apply across the civil, criminal and tribunal jurisdictions to ensure public participation in proceedings which are heard virtually (by the streaming of hearings), including the creation of new criminal offences to guard against abuse, for example by recording such stramed hearings.

It creates a new online procedure rules committee that will be able to create new online procedure rules in relation to the civil, tribunal and family jurisdictions.

It bans cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses  – in particular those who have been the subject of domestic abuse – in certain family cases.

It confers the power to make procedure rules for employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal on the Tribunal Procedure Committee and extends the membership of the Committee to include an employment law practitioner and judge or non-legal member.

 

Part 3 contains measures relating to the organisation and functions of courts and tribunals.

It extends the role of court and tribunal staff authorised to exercise judicial functions giving the relevant procedure rules committees the power to authorise functions in their respective jurisdictions.

It abolishes local justice areas, enabling magistrates to be appointed on a national basis, not just to a specific local justice area.

It replaces statutory declarations with statements of truth in certain traffic and air quality enforcement proceedings.

It makes reforms to the arrangements for the composition of employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

It enables the High Court to make attachment of earnings orders for the recovery of money due under a judgment debt, as far as practicable, on the same basis as in the County Court.

Part 4 contains measures relating to the judiciary and the Judicial Appointments Commission.

It enables more flexible deployment of judges by enabling them to sit in different jurisdictions.

It brings the arrangements for the remuneration of judges and members of employment tribunals – currently undertaken by the Secretary of State for Employment – under the remit of the Lord Chancellor.

It rationlises the roles of  judges in leadership positions who will support a reformed courts and tribunals system. (This includes provision to abolish the statutory post of Justice Clerk; this role will continue, but those qualified to be Clerks will also be able to undertake analogous work in other court/tribunal contexts.)

It  gives the Judicial Appointments Commission the power to carry out more work (not directly related to judicials appointments) on a cost-recovery basis.

Source, Explanatory Notes to the Prisons and Courts Bill 2017, available at https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2016-2017/0145/en/17145en02.htm

Employment tribunals: fees

leave a comment »

Following the introduction of fees to take a case to the Employment Tribunal, the Government undertook to carry out a review to examine the impact of the new fees on the work of the tribunals. They have now carried out this review and in January 2017 published a Consultation Paper on changes they are suggesting might be made to the fees charging system.

The paper states that the introduction of fees had three principal objectives. These objectives were:

(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.
It might be suggested that there was a fourth, political, objective namely to ease burdens on employers who were arguing that it was too easy for them to be taken to a tribunal by an employee – an argument which was of course rejected by the TUC and other workers’ representatives.
Having conducted their review, the Government has concluded that its original objectives have broadly been met:
(i) the financial objective:
those who use the ETs are contributing around £9 million per annum in fees (which is in line with estimates at the time),transferring a proportion of the cost of the ETs from
taxpayers to those who use the Employment Tribunals.
(ii)the behavioural objective:

while there has been a sharp, significant and sustained fall in ET claims following the introduction of fees, there has been a significant increase in the number of people who have turned to Acas’s conciliation service.There were over 80,000 notifications
to Acas in the first year of the new early conciliation service, and more than 92,000 in 2015/16. This suggests that more people are now using conciliation than were previously using voluntary pre-claim conciliation and the ETs combined.
(iii) access to justice:

our assessment suggests that conciliation is effective in helping up to a little under half of the people who refer disputes to them (48%) avoid the need to go to the ETs, and where it has not worked, many (up to a further 34%) went on to issue proceedings.
While these conclusions will not satisfy those who argue that there should be a return to the former system, there is absolutely no indication that the present Government is planning to abandon its new fees scheme.
The review states:
The fall in ET claims has been significant and much greater than originally estimated.
In many cases, we consider this to be a positive outcome: more people have referred their disputes to Acas’s conciliation service. Nevertheless, there is also some evidence that some people who have been unable to resolve their disputes through conciliation have been discouraged from bringing a formal ET claim because of the requirement to pay a fee.
This assessment is reinforced by the consideration given to the particular impact that fees have had on the volumes of workplace discrimination claims, in accordance with the duties under section 149 (1)of the Equality Act 2010.
The Government is proposing that the income threshold for fee remission should be modestly increased to, broadly, the level of the National Living Wage, with additional allowances for couples and children. (This proposal would apply to all courts and tribunal where standards fees are payable.)
The Government has also abolished fees for certain types of case concerning payments from the National Insurance Fund, such as certain redundancy payments.
In addition, the Consultation Paper notes that the Government has taken steps to publicise better the Lord Chancellor’s power to remit fees in exceptional circumstances, which has apparently led to some increase in the numbers of cases where this power has been exercised.
It seems highly unlikely that these changes are going to lead to significant increases in the numbers of claims made in Employment Tribunals. and even the modest changes proposed are not yet settled.
What is potentially more interesting is whether changes that might be made under the Transforming Our Justice System programme which, by holding out the prospect of much greater digitization of process, could lead to more people taking their claims to the ET. But as noted in my earlier blog, significant procedural reform of ETs is not going to be put in place for a considerable time to come.
Details of the proposed changes are at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/review-of-the-introduction-of-fees-in-the-employment-tribunals

Written by lwtmp

February 1, 2017 at 11:52 am

Reforming Employment Tribunals: process

leave a comment »

There have been two recent consultations which could affect the work of Employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal. The first, considered here, is on procedure. The other, on fees, is the subject of a separate note.

As part of its Transforming our Justice System programme, in December 2016 the Government published a short consultation on how reform of employment tribunals might fit into the overall transformation programme. The Consultation Paper noted that because these tribunals were set up under the Employment Tribunals Act 1996, major change could not be achieved without reform of that Act. The Consultation Paper therefore noted that major change was likely to take rather longer to be delivered, given the difficulties of obtaining parliamentary time for an amending Bill.

In the interim, this consultation set out what seems to be a rather minor change, namely that the responsibility for drafting the procedural rules which apply to the work of Employment tribunals should be added into the work already being done by the Tribunals Rules Committee.

This may actually be a rather more controversial proposal than might at first appear, since many judges in both the Employment Tribunal and Employment Appeal Tribunal have long thought that they should be part of the court system, not the tribunal system. They argue that they deal with disputes between parties (which is more what courts do) rather than citizen-state disputes (which is more what tribunals do).

The problem with this argument is that courts do deal with citizen-state disputes as well as tribunals; and other tribunals do deal with party-party disputes.

In my view the essence of tribunals is that they should generally be less formal than courts, and also use specialist expertise where needed. These considerations seem to have tipped the balance in the Government’s thinking. My own view is that the Government’s proposals are sensible.

The consultation closed in mid-January 2017, so no final decision has been taken. It will be seen whether the Government’s initial view prevails.

For the consultation paper, see https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/reforming-the-employment-tribunal-system

Written by lwtmp

February 1, 2017 at 11:04 am

Transforming the English Legal System: Administrative Justice

leave a comment »

The Consultation Paper, Transforming our Justice System also has important proposals to make about the tribunals system, though – because the creation of the Tribunals Service in 2007 has already led to considerable structural change – changes to tribunals will be less marked than to the the criminal and civil justice systems.
The Paper states that in line with their principles of a just, proportionate and accessible system, the Government is planning on the following:
i. Streamlining procedures and encouraging a balanced approach: We are
working to simplify our procedures and put entire services online where
possible, carefully designed to be intuitive and easy to follow. Many relatively
straightforward tribunal decisions do not require full physical hearings, so where
appropriate, judges will be making decisions based on written representations,
hearings will be held over telephone or video conference and specially trained
case officers will help cases progress through the system. All of these changes
will make the process quicker and easier to deal with for all parties involved in a
case.
ii. Digitising the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal: This will be one of the
first services to be moved entirely online, with an end-to-end digital process that
will be faster and easier to use for people that use it.
iii. Simplifying panel composition: Another factor in taking a balanced, tailored
approach to tribunal cases is making sure the panels that make decisions in
tribunals are designed to best suit the circumstances of the case. Most tribunals
currently reflect historic arrangements that may be out of date and do not tailor
the expertise of the panel according to the case. We propose to revise the
current arrangements for setting panel composition to make sure that that
appropriate expertise is focussed on those cases that need it. We would
welcome views on how best to achieve this.
iv. Reforming employment tribunals: The Employment Tribunals deal with a huge
volume of claims every year – c. 83,000 in 2015/16. They work on similar
principles to many other tribunals and the civil courts, but currently have an
entirely separate structure, including a specific appeals tribunal. We are
considering whether the new approaches being adopted elsewhere in the
justice system could be applied to the employment jurisdiction.

 

Written by lwtmp

October 5, 2016 at 5:07 pm

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

leave a comment »

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