The Ministry of Justice has paid out over £1.8 million in employment tribunal fees refunds in the period up to the 15th December 2017. They started providing refunds on the 20th October 2017. Nevertheless, at the same time, the Government does not rule out the reintroduction of employment tribunal fees at some point in the future.
Employment Tribunal Fees Refunds
The Justice Minister, Dominic Raab, recently announced that up to the 15th December 2017, the Ministry of Justice had received 4689 applications, of which 2151 had received refunds. The total amount paid up to that point in employment tribunal fees refunds amounted to £1,808,310.
It is anticipated by the Ministry of Justice that ultimately over £33 million will be refunded. The relatively small amount that has been paid out so far, reflects the fact that the refund scheme was only extended to all those eligible on the 15th November 2017, and the latest statistics only run up to the 15th December 2017.
Dominic Raab provided the recent statistics after having been called to appear before the Parliamentary Justice Committee on the 19th December 2017, as part of the Justice Committees inquiry into employment tribunal fees. When giving evidence, Mr Raab stated: “Let me give you the basics. We launched the first phase on 20 October and that was in relation to those who, after the Supreme Court ruling in July, had contacted the Ministry of Justice. Then we had the full roll-out on 15 November, so that anyone who had paid a fee could apply. We received 4,689 applications, of which 2,660 have been processed and approved. Our aim, and one of the reasons we took time to get the system right, was to have a target of turning those applications round within 15 working days. As of 15 December, we had paid 2,151 refunds, worth over £1.8 million. We have been up and running for a month; we have a proper system in place and we have paid out almost £2 million in refunds so far. The expected cost is estimated to run up to £33 million, including interest.”
Reintroduction Of Employment Tribunal Fees Not Ruled Out By Government
To date, the reintroduction of employment tribunal fees has not been ruled out by the Government.
When asked by the chair of the justice committee what he felt the lessons of the employment tribunal fees Supreme Court defeat were, Mr Raab said: “At the headline strategic level, there are two fundamental lessons. The Supreme Court was very careful not to rule out the principle of charging fees within the employment tribunal sector and more generally, which is important, but clearly it felt we got the balance wrong in relation to access to justice. That is one clearly important lesson on which we are reflecting, and we can talk about that in more detail. The second issue that I urge people not to lose sight of is the principle and aim of encouraging more alternative dispute resolution…..We want to make sure that we ground our policy in relation to employment tribunals specifically, and more generally on fees policy, in what the Supreme Court said…..In the last year of fees, something like 13% of the costs of employment tribunals were funded through fees. That compares with something like 39% of general courts and tribunals funding through fees. I am not detracting at all from the specifics of the Supreme Court judgment, but the balance between a taxpayer-funded system and user pays is quite a delicate one. It is a difficult one to strike. Bear in mind that the Government won in the High Court and in the Court of Appeal, but lost in the Supreme Court. I do not say that to suggest that we flinch at all from taking into account what the Supreme Court said; I just make the point that it is quite a delicate balance to strike.”
Given the current weakness of the Government and its preoccupation with all matters Brexit, it is unlikely that the Government would attempt the reintroduction of employment tribunal fees before the next election. However, should the Conservatives get back in with a healthy majority, then employment tribunal fees may well return, given that the Conservatives believe that the only thing that they did wrong last time was in their view to supposedly fail to strike the right balance. Given that the taxpayer is having to foot a bill in the region of £2 million just to administer the refund scheme, plus the costs of the interest payments on the refunds, and the many millions spent in futilely defending the case brought against the Government by UNISON, it is absolutely astonishing that the Government has not ruled out the reintroduction of employment tribunal fees. If the fees ever do come back, then the outcome would almost certainly be equally as disastrous in terms of access to justice, as it was the first time around. And should the Government come unstuck yet again in the Courts, the taxpayer would again be facing a huge bill.
The philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist, George Santayana, once said: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (a quote often incorrectly attributed to Sir Winston Churchill). To paraphrase the same, those who fail to learn the lessons from the past, are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Any reintroduction of employment tribunal fees would represent an object lesson in this kind of utter stupidity.