Despite criticisms last month from the House of Commons Justice Committee over the government delay in publishing its review into employment tribunal fees, it seems the Ministry of Justice, which was due to release the final report at the end of 2015, is still no nearer setting a date for publication.
During a Commons debate on the Justice Committee’s report, justice minister, Dominic Raab, once again apologised for the prolonged delay, but simply added that the final report would only be published ‘as soon as is practicable’.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Raab said: ‘the review is very close to completion, so I hope to be able to make an announcement in the near future.’ He also added that the introduction of tribunal fees in July, 2013, have succeeded in bringing ‘the right kind of behavioural change’, despite a 70 per cent fall in the number of claims brought:
“The main concern about employment tribunal fees has been the large fall in the number of claims immediately after fees were introduced, but it is not that surprising that the volume of claims has fallen,” he said.
“It is obvious that more people will use a service if it is free than if they have to pay to use it.” Mr Raab also added that the ACAS conciliation service and remission system for paying fees had helped to allay some of the fears of denial of access to justice and had helped to offset the effects of the new charges.
Mr Raab also addressed the issue of the increase of divorce fees raised by the Justice Committee, and said the government had sought to ensure vulnerable women are protected within the divorce fees scheme:
“Women are more likely to qualify for a fee remission. In the circumstances of a divorce or any other matter where the parties have conflicting interests in proceedings, the applicant is assessed on his or her own means, rather than on those of the household.”
Although the Labour party had gone on record saying it was committed to scrapping the employment tribunal fee system, the justice minister said that position simply ignored the financial reality of the situation, adding there was ‘no getting away’ from the fact the principal reason for raising fees was financial:
“The raw truth is that the Ministry of Justice is not a protected department. We have a very challenging financial settlement, so we must reduce its annual spending by 15 per cent in real terms, which means about £1bn in cash terms by 2019-20.”
He added that he couldn’t rule out further increases in the future. Enhanced fees were introduced for money claims in March, 2015, but plans to increase the threshold above the existing £10,000 limit were abandoned. However, he added that ministers may need to revisit that decision depending on circumstances and may indeed need to reintroduce that proposal.