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Priced out of justice

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The Employment Tribunal is based on the notion of justice, accessibility and informality. Instead of the bureaucracy and financial outlay involved in making a claim in the County or High court the employment tribunal has immemorially given the opportunity for the wronged employee to challenge the way he was treated by his employer.

However, the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunal, at the end of this month now removes this fundamental principle. The minimum fee for lodging the claim at employment from 29 July 2013 onwards will be £160. However this will only cover the issuing of the claim and if the employee wants the Tribunal to hear the case in full the employee will be asked to pay a further £950 for the final hearing.

It is important to note that the new rules do allow a remission of these fees for low-income claimants. However it is likely that many others will be faced with a financial bill in the pursuit of justice, a bill which will invariably exceed the compensation they are seeking from the Tribunal.

Proponents of the fee introduction believe that it will encourage parties to settle the claim as soon as possible once it has been issued to avoid the fee incurred at a final hearing. However the former employer is likely to have stronger resources to deal with litigation. The concern of the financial burden will be at the forefront of the claimant’s mind placing him/her in an inequitable bargaining position once negotiations commence. That is if indeed they do commence, which may be less likely now that the Respondent is armed with the knowledge of the financial burden weighing on the Claimant. The change will enable a Respondent to nefariously exert its force to dispose of a wronged individual's claim because he/she simply has not got the financial might to pursue the claim.

The new system may well weed out weak, vexatious claims brought by disgruntled employees, saving  employers time and expense in litigation. However, the reality of the fee introduction is that the strength of the case can not be fully tested meaning that those with a meritous but without the funds will effectively be priced out of justice.

The introduction of the fees is a further blow to claimants who as of April 2013 lost legal aid funding for the majority of employment Tribunal claims. These changes demonstrate a shift of emphasis, from a meritorious system based on accessibility to one only accessible to those with deep pockets.

By Stephen Woodhouse

We at Stephensons understand that this change is going to affect you and we are happy to offer further guidance on this by giving you the opportunity to speak to one of our trained legal advisers for a free no obligation consultation.