Report on courts and tribunal fees

23 June 2016

The House of Commons Justice Committee has published a report on courts and tribunal fees which considers changes introduced in recent years as well as proposals for future changes.

Much of the Report deals with the impact of fees introduced in July 2013 for bringing cases before employment tribunals, which have been particularly controversial. For claims such as unfair dismissal, discrimination, whistleblowing and equal pay, fees of up to £1,200 are charged to those seeking to challenge their employers.

The introduction of these fees led to an undisputed and precipitate drop in the number of cases brought, approaching 70%. According to the report, the startling drop was not predicted by the government.

In oral evidence to the Commission considerable emphasis was placed on the fact that in the year beginning in April 2014, Acas had dealt with 83,000 early conciliation cases.

However the Commission state in their report that they heard a considerable amount of evidence that, far from encouraging early conciliation and resolution of disputes, employment tribunal fees were having precisely the opposite effect, because there was no incentive for an employer to settle in cases where the claimant might have difficulty raising the fee.

The report concludes that a contribution by users of the courts to the costs of operating those courts is not objectionable in principle, but questions what is an acceptable amount to charge taking into account the need to preserve access to justice.

This report is not to be confused with the post-implementation review of fees, which the government had originally intended to complete by the end of 2015. The Committee describe this delay as unacceptable and detrimental to their work, and have called for the review to be published immediately. The review was announced as starting mid-2015 and to consider how effective the introduction of fees has been at meeting the original objectives, while maintaining access to justice. The original objectives 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 Commission’s report recommends that the overall quantum of fees charged for bringing cases to employment tribunals should be substantially reduced; fee remission thresholds should be increased; and further special consideration should be given to the position of women alleging maternity or pregnancy discrimination.

The report also recommends the introduction of a system for regular rerating of remission thresholds to take account of inflation, and that it should conduct a further review of the affordability of civil court fees and the remission system, considering means of simplification, for example through automatic remission for all basic rate taxpayers.

Read the full report here.