Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘tribunal fees

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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Immigration appeals and delays: On the verge of a crisis?

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This links to a short blog article written by Robert Thomas, the leading academic authority on the work of Immigration Tribunals. Analysing recent (December 2016) reports from the Public Accounts Committee and the Justice Select Committee (among others), the note provides evidence that while the number of appeals are declining, the numbers of appeals already in the system awaiting a decision is actually increasing. This seems to be largely the consequence of an over-zealous reduction in the number of Tribunal Judges.

The announcement that the Human Rights Group JUSTICE is embarking on a review of immigration appeals is therefore particularly welcome.

Source: Immigration appeals and delays: On the verge of a crisis?.

Written by lwtmp

May 18, 2017 at 9:24 am

Fees in immigration and asylum appeals

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In September 2016 I noted there the decision of the Government to introduce massive increases in the fees charged for bringing appeals to the First Tier Immigration and Asylum Chamber. They were introduced in October 2016.

On 26 November 2016, in a remarkable change of heart, the Government announced that the October increases would be scrapped and that the fee levels would revert to those in place before their introduction.

It should not be thought that the issue has entirely gone away. The Minister’s statement repeats the point that, in the Government’s view, the cost of providing court and tribunal should be broadly neutral, and that those who use them should pay more. Officials will therefore be working on new proposals, which will be set out in due course.

I think that two key questions remain unanswered:

1 Is the idea of making courts and tribunals self-financing the best basis for providing this service, particularly where what is being appealed against are decisions taken by civil servants working within the government? Is there not a public interest element – which should be funded in other ways, not by the individual – in ensuring that decisions taken by officials are right?

2 If fees are set at such a level that cases are simply not brought to the tribunal, does this not make the whole exercise self-defeating, in that no money comes into the system? In addition, if the flow of cases dries up, it is hard to argue that the impact of the fees has not interfered with access to justice.

I do hope that the nest consultation paper deals in a rather more nuanced way with these issues of principle, rather than just focusing on the narrow question of cash.

For the Minister’s statement, go to https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/courts-and-tribunals-update

Written by lwtmp

November 26, 2016 at 10:31 am

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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Proposed new fees for immigration and asylum cases

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On 21 April 2016, the Government published a consultation paper proposing new fees for proceedings in the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) and Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber). Following on huge rises in court fees for civil and family disputes, as well as huge increases in the fees charged in employment cases, the spotlight now falls on immigration and asylum cases.

At the heart of the government’s case for new charges is the statement:

The courts and tribunals service cost £1.8 billion in 2014-15, but only £700 million was received in income. This leaves a net cost to the taxpayer of around £1.1bn in 1 year alone.

This begs an important question: is it good policy for the justice system that its costs are met only by those who use the system, as opposed to being a collective responsibility which society as a whole should shoulder?

Whatever your answer to this question, you may be surprised at the level of fees which are now being proposed by the Government.

As the Minister stated when launching the Consultation:

We have previously consulted on plans to raise fees for proceedings in the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) in order to recover around 25% of the £84 million annual costs of that Chamber. Having re-assessed MOJ’s financial position following the Spending Review, we need to go much further.

The new consultation proposes increasing fees in those immigration and asylum proceedings where a fee is payable so that the fee meets the costs of those proceedings in full. (Emphasis added.)

The consequence of this policy is that it is proposed:

  1. To increase fees in the First-tier Tribunal from £80 to £490 for an application for a decision on the papers;
  2. To increase fees in the First-tier Tribunal from £140 to £800 for an application for an oral hearing.
  3. To introduce a new fee of £455 for an application to the First-tier Tribunal for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal.

The Government argues that the same principles should apply to appeals to the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) so the consultation also seeks views on introducing fees, set at full cost recovery levels, for these proceedings.

The consultation proposes:

  1. a fee of £350 for an application to the Upper Tribunal for permission to appeal, where permission has been refused by the First-tier Tribunal;
  2. a fee of £510 for an appeal hearing where permission is granted.

The Government concedes that some applicants will face difficulties in paying these fees, so to make sure that the burden of funding the system is shared as fairly as possible it will continue to exempt from fees those in particularly vulnerable positions. This includes those who qualify for legal aid or asylum support; those who are appealing against a decision to deprive them of their citizenship; and those children bringing appeals to the tribunal who are being supported by a local authority. The Government will also extend our exemptions to protect children being housed by the local authority and the parents of children receiving local authority support. In addition, it is consulting on further extensions to the exemptions scheme in this consultation to make sure the most vulnerable are protected.

The Government claims that these proposals will raise around an additional £37 million a year.

There are at least two fundamental questions that these proposals raise.

First, as mentioned above, is the policy of full cost recovery the right one, particularly where it is decisions of the state that are being challenged. The now defunct Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council sought to establish some principles in relation the question of who should bear these cost – which included the principle that, at least to a degree the Government department that made a decision which was overturned should pay part of the cost of the appeal.

Second, the whole of the Consultation Paper is based on assumption that the introduction of these fees will have no significant impact on the numbers of cases going through the tribunal system. If, however, the impact is similar to what has happened in employment cases, there will be a significant fall in appeal numbers, which no doubt the Government would like to see but which will prevent the Ministry of Justice achieving is financial targets.

Details of the government’s proposals are set out in the consultation can be found at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/first-tier-tribunal-and-upper-tribunal-fees.

The consultation runs until 3 June 2016.

Written by lwtmp

May 16, 2016 at 12:23 pm

Court fees: new decisions; new consultation

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In purely commercial terms, the civil justice and tribunals system operates at a financial loss. Many argue that this is as it should be – the provision of courts and tribunals is a public service that should be financed generally by the state, not just by those who have to use the courts. But the former Coalition Government and the current Conservative Government do not share this view. They argue that users of court and tribunal services should pay more for them than they historically they have done. Despite recent increases in court fees, the Government states that the Courts and Tribunals Service costs £1 billion more than the income received through fees.

In January 2015, I noted here the decisions of the Government to introduce new court fees – decisions which, when they came into effect in April, resulted in a great deal of complaint from the legal profession. Those decisions were also accompanied by a consultation on other proposed changes to court fees.

This incremental approach to policy making – linking decisions and consultations – has now been used again. In July 2015, the newly elected Conservative Government reached its conclusions on the issues it consulted on in January 2015, and at the same time set out further proposals for fee changes on which views are sought – nicely timed for the holiday period when Ministers and civil servants are away, leaving holiday homework for those who have to respond to these documents!

The July 2015 document sets out the following principal decisions and issues.

Court fees – general

1. Following the January consultation, the Government has decided to increase the fees for issuing a possession claim in the county court by £75, from £280 to £355. The Government claims that the available evidence suggests that this increase will not deter anyone who would otherwise have taken their claim to court. it does not mention the ultimate impact this decision may have on the person against whom possession is being sought.
2. The Government has also decided to increase the fees for general applications in civil proceedings by £50, from £50 to
£100, for an application by consent and by £100, from £155 to £255, for a contested application. In order to ensure the most vulnerable are not affected, the Government has decided to exclude from this fee rise applications such as those to vary or extend an injunction for protection from harassment or violence.
Divorce fees
In December 2013, the Coalition Government also consulted on increasing the fee payable to issue divorce proceedings from £410 to £750. The Government has now announced that it will Increase the fees for issuing divorce proceedings to £550. The Government states:
We have carefully considered the concerns raised during the consultation and decided not to increase fees by 80% as originally proposed. Instead we will press ahead with a more affordable increase of about a third. We are also protecting the most vulnerable by ensuring that fee remission is available for those who need it, such as women in low wage households.
What is interesting to me is whether there are opportunities here to encourage parties to potential divorce proceedings to issue proceedings on-line. While some divorce proceedings are extremely complex, many are not. Should not the Government be developing a portal to enable divorce proceedings to be issues on-line, such as now happens in other parts of the civil justice system, e.g. for money claims and possession claims? Lower fees for issuing proceedings online would be expected.

It cannot be said that the three changes listed above are going to impact significantly on the £1bn shortfall; the Government’s own estimates are that the increased fees will only raise around £60 million.

Further proposals

It is worth remembering that in determining the balance between what users pay towards the overall cost of the court and tribunal service as compared with the financial burden that falls on the taxpayer. That is why, in the last Coalition Government,  section 180 of the Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 gave the government power to set fees at a level above the costs of proceedings to which they relate, i.e. in crude terms to make a surplus on certain types of proceedings which could be used to fund other types of process.

The Government has now set out further proposals relating to fees for proceedings.

First, it proposes an increase in the maximum fee for money claims from £10,000 to at least £20,000. Fees are currently payable on 5% of the value of a claim up to a maximum fee of £10,000. The proposal is therefore to double the maximum fee. The Government notes that this change will only affect the highest value claims, worth £200,000 or more. There are 1.2 million money claims each year, of which only 5,000 will be affected.That is just 0.4% of the total, or 1 in every 240 money claims. The Government argues, with some force, that many of the claims brought for higher values will involve large multi-national organisations or wealthy individuals. It therefore thinks it  right to ask them to contribute more. In order to protect
the most vulnerable, personal injury and clinical negligence claims will be excluded from this higher cap and fee remissions for those of limited means will continue to apply.
Second, the Government proposes to introduce or increase fees for certain tribunals. Thus fees in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber would, while applying exemptions to protect the most vulnerable.
The Government states it will not be applying any fees to the Social Entitlement Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal, where most applicants do not have the means to pay, or to the Mental Health Tribunal, which deals with especially vulnerable individuals.
However, it does want to introduce fees to the property, tax and general regulatory chambers. In the property tribunal, it proposes fees at low levels for the majority of applications, while setting higher fees for leasehold enfranchisement cases where there are often large sums of money at stake. In each of the Tribunals being consulted on, the Government says its aim is to recover 25% of the total cost of the service through fees with taxpayers footing the rest of the bill.
What is disappointing about these proposals is that there is no reference to the work done by the now defunct Adminitrative Justice and Tribunals Council, which suggested that discussion of income streams for providing the tribunals service should also include consideration of what financial contribution those government departments against whom decisions are being appealed should make, particularly in cases where the departmentd loses the appeal. The Council felt that the incentives on departments to get the decision right first time were not sufficiently strong.
The Consultation on these proposals runs until mid-September. It may be anticipated that consequent decisions will emerge around the end of the year.
Full details of the decisions and consultation proposals are in https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/further-fees-proposal-consultation/supporting_documents/enhancedfeesresponseconsultationonfurtherfees.pdf.
Full lists of the new fees are in Annex B; lists of the proposed new fees are in Annex C.