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Employment tribunal reforms: justice under threat

Proposed reforms to employment tribunal panels prove that access the justice system in all of its forms are being undermined by this current government.

Proposed reforms to employment tribunal panels prove that access the justice system in all of its forms are being undermined by this current government.

Alan Brown, MP for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (SNP), raised important questions about the effectiveness of the reforms to employment tribunal panels.

Gareth Bacon, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, clarified the current status of the reforms. He explained that the responsibility for the composition of employment tribunal panels now lies with the Senior President of Tribunals. “I understand that he intends to publish the responses to the consultation on proposed reforms shortly,” Bacon stated. He also mentioned that there is an ongoing statutory duty to consult with the Lord Chancellor on these matters, with a meeting scheduled to discuss the proposals.

Concerns About Tribunal Fees

Alan Brown expressed significant concern about the potential reintroduction of tribunal fees. He highlighted the detrimental impact such fees had previously, noting: “The introduction of tribunal fees previously led to a 54% drop in the number of cases going forward, and the scheme was deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court.” Brown criticised the idea of reintroducing fees, arguing it would discourage workers from pursuing justice and enable exploitative practices by bad employers. He pointed out that over 50 organisations, including the TUC and Citizens Advice, are calling on the Government to reconsider this move.

In response, Bacon acknowledged the concerns raised by Brown and other MPs. He noted that these issues were addressed during the statutory instrument’s passage through Parliament. “The Under-Secretary of State for Justice has written to the Senior President of Tribunals to convey those concerns,” Bacon said, indicating that the upcoming meeting would further discuss these critical issues.

Access to Justice During Economic Hardship

Chris Stephens, MP for Glasgow South West (SNP), echoed Brown’s concerns, emphasising the unfair burden tribunal fees would place on workers during a cost of living crisis. He argued that expecting workers to pay to take their employer to an employment tribunal for cases like wage theft and unfair dismissal is “outrageous” and contrary to the principle that access to justice should not depend on one’s financial situation.

Bacon claimed that efforts are being made to maintain access to justice. He mentioned the introduction of a regional virtual court system designed to safeguard this access. “We will always make that available as far as it is possible to do so,” he asserted, while also noting the ongoing efforts to address backlogs in the system.

Broader Implications 

The debate also touched on broader issues of legal support and accessibility. Stephens highlighted cases where MPs were denied access to constituents who faced deportation. Alex Chalk, the Lord Chancellor, acknowledged the importance of MPs having access to their constituents in appropriate circumstances and emphasised the necessity of providing individuals with robust legal support. He said that measures such as increased funding and support for legal advice are in place to assist those in need.

Napo believes that workers should be able to seek justice without facing prohibitive fees, especially during times of economic hardship. We will be keeping a close eye on how this situation progresses as we believe that all workers deserve access to justice without undue financial burden.

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