Contained in the raft of announcements by business secretary Vince Cable last week was the news that the Ministry of Justice will consult on the introduction of tribunal fees for employees who wish to bring a claim. Critics have argued that this will affect access to justice.
That argument will surely fall on deaf ears. All the evidence suggests the coalition has a broad but clear agenda to limit the ability of ordinary individuals to use the law to gain restitution, and to access legal advice to achieve this. Behind this aim is the assumption that legal liability has a ‘chilling effect’ (ministers’ favoured jargon) on organisations’ ability to get on with the job in hand.
Lord Justice Jackson emphasises the need to reduce ‘litigation costs’, a term that refers both to awards and the cost of legal advice. In March it was proposed that the legal enforceability of special educational needs statements be removed. And on legal aid, although the government mantra is that the £2.1bn budget is too high, ministers have shown little interest in proposals to lower the bill while protecting access to justice.
They may not like the size of the legal aid budget, but it would appear that they distrust the accountability that it facilitates much more. Ministers now take the next logical step, putting barriers in the way of privately funded individuals seeking to use lawyers and the law.