Workers unfairly dismissed by their employers are being denied access to justice because of new Government court fees, a cross party committee of MPs has warned.
Since the new employment tribunal fees were introduced in 2013 there has been a “precipitate drop” of almost 70 per cent in the number of cases being brought, the Commons Justice committee said. It can now cost as much as £1,200 simply to bring a claim.
The committee added it was too early to judge whether they were deterring "vexatious" claims as the Government intended but said there was clear evidence they were acting as a disincentive to the early resolution of disputes if an employer thought a claimant was struggling to raise the fee.
"In many cases the existence of fees erects a disincentive for employers to resolve disputes at an early stage," it said.
"The arguments presented to us by the Government in this inquiry ... 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 also condemned an "unjustified" increase in the fee for bringing a divorce petition from £410 to £550 - taking it to roughly double the cost to the courts of providing the service.
"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," it said.
The MPs also expressed concern at proposals for an increase in the fees in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber of up to six-fold so that all the costs could be recovered.
"If these proposals are proceeded with, there is a danger that they will deny vulnerable people the means to challenge the lawfulness of decisions taken by the state about their immigration and asylum status," the committee said.
The Committee concluded that the introduction of fees set at a level to recover or exceed the full cost of operation of the court required “particular care and strong justification”.
“Where there is conflict between the objectives of achieving full cost recovery and preserving access to justice, the latter must prevail,” the committee’s Chair Bob Neill MP said.
“We understand the financial pressures on Ministers in a Department with unprotected spending. We also understand that the MoJ does not always have the luxury to be as rigorous and meticulous in preparing the ground for controversial policies as it might wish. But it is important that in such circumstances the Ministry is frank about that fact.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "We welcome this report and will consider the findings carefully.
"The cost of our courts and tribunal system to the taxpayer is unsustainably high, and it is only right that those who use the system pay more to relieve this burden.
"Every pound we collect from fee increases will be spent on providing a leaner and more effective system of courts and tribunals.
"At the same time, we've made sure that the most vulnerable and those who cannot afford to pay won't have to."
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