By now most people will be aware that UNISON lost its legal challenge against the introduction of Employment Tribunal fees last month. In rejecting UNISON’s challenge, the High Court held that at that point in time there was insufficient evidence to show that the level of the fees made it difficult for employees to gain access to justice or that they had an indirectly discriminatory effect on minority groups.
The High Court left the door open to Unison to revisit the issue however, if further evidence came to light which might support overturning the current fees regime. Ironically, that new evidence may have just been supplied by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) itself.
Last week, the MOJ published its annual statistics for employment tribunal claims. The statistics showed that claims in October – December 2013 had fallen by a whopping 79% compared with the same period in 2012. Whilst total claims were down 79%, sex discrimination claims were down by 83% and equal pay claims fell by 80%. Although the government may be correct that fees are not the only reason for the drop, it seems highly likely that fees are the main catalyst for such a collapse in the overall number of claims.
Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON, argued that the ‘shocking and disastrous impact of tribunal fees is now blatantly obvious’. It might well be argued by the government that its policy on fees has proved highly effective in achieving its stated aim of reducing the financial burden on the Employment Tribunal system.
It remains to be seen whether UNISON and other interested parties would feel confident enough to take the issue back to court based on one quarter’s statistics, but we should probably expect to see some further challenge to the fees regime in the not too distant future.