As you may know I am a member of the House of Commons Justice Select Committee. We have recently produced a report on the Governments changes to Court and Tribunal fees.
Over the course of the last Parliament the Coalition Government pursued policies aimed at decreasing the cost of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to the public purse, through the introduction of and increases to various fees and charges. These included the introduction of fees for employment tribunals, a regime of enhanced fees for civil proceedings, and a mandatory charge imposed on anyone convicted of a criminal offence.
The Justice Committee held an inquiry into the effects of the introduction and levels of these fees and charges.
There are three ‘estimates days’ each year in the House of Commons on which to consider the estimates of public spending by government departments. The topic of debate on these days is chosen by the Liaison Committee. Usually the subject of a recent report by a departmental select committee is chosen, which in turn relates to a particular estimate.
Because of my membership of the Committee I spoke in this debate on access to justice in particular employment tribunal fees.
Our report asked for evidence from hundreds of people, from the judiciary, trade unions and charities. The overwhelming response was deep concern that these fees have introduced barriers to justice.
For example the number of employment tribunal cases brought forward by single individuals decreased by 67%. The number of cases brought forward by more than one individual declined by 72%. This decline is due to the prohibitive fees put in place by the Government. We need justice to be accessible to all.
There was a large number of particular cases, which I note in my speech, that show further falls in people claiming for things like sex discrimination, working time directive and deductions of wages. Our report shows that the Governments reforms are having a profound discriminating effect on workers.
We can see that there is a problem with our justice system. The Minister needs to reevaluate the situation and implement the changes needed to secure people the right to access justice.
The Citizens Advice Bureau produced research which showed that people would have to put to one side 6 months of their pay – £1,200 – to be able to access justice.
It is clear and simple. There is a discriminatory effect of these fees. The Government must answer this case.