In a recent landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Employment Tribunal fees amounted to an unlawful barrier to justice for employees who wanted to bring claims against their employers.
Since the introduction of fees in 2013, the Supreme Court noted that there had been a “dramatic and persistent” fall of approximately 70% in the number of tribunal claims brought with fees from £390 for simple claims to £1,200 for unfair dismissal and discriminations being imposed. As a result of the judgment, claimants will no longer have to pay any fees and those individuals who have paid a fee since 2013 will be reimbursed at a cost to the Government of £32 million. The Government may introduce lower fees at some point in the future but as the Supreme Court said: “in order for the fees to be lawful, they have to be set at a level that everyone can afford”.
As a solicitor who deals with disputes for businesses and individuals, the decision makes me question whether we need to look at the fees imposed by the County Court and the High Court as well?
The Government has imposed very substantive rises in the court fees over the last five years to make the court system self-funding and to invest in IT. However, some fees are now six times greater than they were a few years ago. For example, to start the legal process, the fees are now equal to 5% of the amount claimed for cases valued between £10,000 and £200,000, just for asking the court to open a file and stamp the documents before a Judge even looks at the case. Frustratingly, this high entry price to justice is not proportionate to the amount of time the case actually takes to resolve in a court.
Although some fee should be payable to deter nuisance claims, I do believe that we are in danger of deterring those seeking justice due to the level of fees imposed. Frequently, I see parties at fault not making any offer of compensation because they suspect the claimant will not invest the money required to bring the claim.
I felt even more aggrieved for claimants when it was recently announced that the court system has made a surplus on fees of £102m in the last financial year after the expenses of running the court system were taken into account.
The court system should not be there to make a profit while at the same time making it too expensive for some to bring claims at all.