Are we any nearer resolving the issue of tribunal fees reimbursement following July’s landmark ruling by the Supreme Court that such fees were unlawful? The short answer appears to be no. According to a senior member of the employment tribunals (England and Wales), Whitehall is still working on ‘detailed arrangements’ to refund employment tribunal fees and there will be no further announcement until next month.
What’s the latest update on employment tribunal fee reimbursement?
The shocking update was delivered on August 17th and has angered many legal practitioners and campaign groups. The statement was circulated on social media channels by specialist employment law barrister, Daniel Barnett of London Outer Temple Chambers, and reported in the Law Society Gazette. In an employment law bulletin, Barnett reported:
‘I have been [asked] to distribute the following information on behalf of the Employment Tribunals (England & Wales):
‘As you are probably aware, in advance of the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Unison case an undertaking was given to the Court to refund Employment Tribunal and Employment Appeal Tribunal fees, should the Fees Order be declared unlawful.’
‘We [Employment Tribunals (England & Wales)] are now working on the detailed arrangements of the scheme to enable that undertaking to be met and we aim to ensure that the process is as simple and unobtrusive as possible for those who make an application, while ensuring that refunds are only paid to those who are entitled.’
‘There are, however, a number of points of detail that we do need to address including, for example, how to deal with refunds in claims involving multiple claimants, and how it will operate when the tribunal has ordered the opposing party to reimburse a fee.’
‘Please bear with us during this period, and we hope to be in a position to make an announcement on the details of the refund scheme during September.’’
Speaking after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Unison case, justice minister, Dominic Raab, pledged to put in place ‘immediate steps to stop charging fees in employment tribunals and put in place arrangements to refund those who have paid’. It was estimated at the time of the ruling that these refunds could potentially cost as much as £32 million. However, since that statement, no further update has been made until now.
How have employment lawyers reacted to the latest tribunal fee delay?
Unsurprisingly there has been unsurprisingly widespread criticism of this latest delay by solicitors, employment lawyers and unions. Michael Reed, legal officer (employment) at the Free Representation Unit, tweeted that the implication of the statement is that people will have to make an application – ‘which seems profoundly unsatisfactory’. Whilst Hodge Jones & Allen, tweeted that ‘no news not good news’ on refunds.
However, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice simply said: ‘The MoJ regularly holds discussions with its stakeholders during the course of policy development, and is not obliged to comment on these.’