Bid to block employment tribunal fees fails

Lawyers arguing against the introduction this month of fees for taking cases to employment tribunals have lost their bid to block the move.

However the Court of Session in Edinburgh has granted a full hearing later this year on the legality of the UK Department of Justice's move.

The government has agreed to repay any fees paid in Scotland, England and Wales if it loses that case.

It has been told to publicise that to those using the system.

But lawyers warn that there is continuing uncertainty for those wanting to use the employment tribunal and appeal systems.

And the lawyer who brought the case commented that the court case this week showed the Department of Justice is "in disarray" and should rethink the fees.

'Fundamental principles'

They are being introduced from 29 July, with a £160 minimum fee up to £950 for an individual taking a dismissal case to a hearing.

For groups of workers, the fee scale goes up to £5,700.

Carol Fox, of Fox and Partners law firm, said she was pleased with the outcome, although disappointed not to get an interdict which would have blocked the introduction of fees.

She said: "In taking this legal action against the government and the imposition of fees we have raised fundamental principles regarding access to justice.

"We have obtained very significant concessions and points of clarification from the government.

"During the course of these proceedings, it became clear that the Ministry of Justice is in disarray. The wise course of action would be for the minister to take time to consider the drafting errors."

'Seems bizarre'

Ms Fox said it was of "grave concern" that the government was making it more difficult for low-paid women to make equal pay claims.

Fox and Partners represents more than 12,500 claimants with equal pay cases under way at the Employment Tribunal.

Chris Leitch, an employment lawyer at Tods Murray solicitors, commented: "It seems bizarre that far from simplifying employment law, what we have now is businesses and claimants having to pay fees that may or may not be refunded depending on the outcome of these court cases.

"This introduces significant uncertainty for anyone involved in a tribunal case."

Responding to the outcome of this week's hearing, Helen Grant, the UK Department of Justice courts minister, said: "It is not fair on the taxpayer to foot the entire £74m bill for people to escalate workplace disputes to a tribunal.

"We want people, where they can afford to do so, to pay a contribution.

"It is in everyone's interest to avoid drawn out disputes which emotionally damage workers and financially damage businesses. That's why we are encouraging quicker, simpler and cheaper alternatives like mediation.

"We are pleased that the court has decided not to prevent the new fee system from coming into effect on 29 July."