Huge rises to court fees are having a damaging impact on access to justice, Parliament’s Justice Committee has said in a new report.
The report also assesses the Government’s recent proposals for new changes to court fees, concluding that major amendments are urgently needed to restore an acceptable level of access to employment tribunals and recommends several other changes to court fees in family, asylum and civil cases.
The Justice Committee is a group of MPs (Members of Parliament) who have been appointed by Parliament to scrutinise issues relating to the justice system.
What’s happened to employment claims?
According to the report, the introduction in July 2013 of new fees for employment tribunal claims has led to a drop of almost 70% in the number of cases brought.
In a submission to the Justice Committee, the Discrimination Law Association argued that reduced access to tribunals had fallen disproportionately on women and those from traditionally disadvantaged groups. Maternity Action submitted that there had been a 40% drop in claims for pregnancy-related detriment or dismissal.
The report says:
The arguments presented by the Government have not swayed us from our conclusion, on the evidence, that the regime of employment tribunal fees has had a significant adverse impact on access to justice for meritorious claims.
The Committee recommends a substantial reduction in the overall amount of fees and further consideration of the position of women alleging maternity or pregnancy discrimination.
What about non-employment claims?
The Justice Committee report also addressed a proposal to increase the divorce petition fee from £410 to £550. The report says: “It cannot be right that a person bringing a divorce petition, in most cases a woman, is subject to what has been characterised in evidence to us as effectively a divorce tax”. The MPs recommend that the proposal be withdrawn.
The Justice Committee also expressed “considerable concern” about the likely impact of proposed increases in fees for the Immigration and Asylum Chamber. The Government has recently published proposals to set fees at a ‘cost-recovery level’, involving a six-fold increase from the fees currently charged. The report emphasises the danger that these proposals “will deny vulnerable people the means to challenge the lawfulness of decisions taken by the state about their immigration and asylum status”.
The Committee also recommends setting up a pilot scheme for graduated fee payments whenever there are substantial fees payable in civil or family court cases.
Why does this matter?
The Committee’s conclusions suggest that fee changes are having a disproportionate impact on workers, asylum seekers, pregnant women, new mothers, women generally and those seeking help with family matters.
Access to justice is necessary to ensuring that your legal rights are protected. If the costs of going to court to assert your rights are prohibitively expensive, what is the point in having those rights at all?
The full report can be read here.
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