Radical changes to the employment tribunal structure are needed to ensure unlawful workplace practices do not go unpunished, the Law Society has said.
The organisation today called for a complete overhaul of the system to benefit employees, employers and the administration of justice.
The government has initiated a review of employment tribunal fees which were brought in more than two years ago.
In its response, the Society said the costs of using the current system - in addition to the complexity - have discouraged people from bringing legitimate cases and businesses from defending wrongful accusations.
The Society wants a new system where claims are dealt with flexibly based on their complexity and the financial stakes involved. In turn, the financial savings made could be passed on to enable the removal of tribunal fees.
The system, based on one single jurisdiction could be broken down into four levels, it proposed. The simplest cases, such as claims for unpaid wages, could be dealt with on paper and the most complex cases handled by an experienced judge.
The system would also embrace technologies such as video links and electronic transfer of documents to ensure efficient outcomes and alternative dispute resolution ‘exit points’ made available throughout the process.
Law Society president Jonathan Smithers (pictured) said: ‘Our proposed system would be easy for the public to use, as there would be a single entry point, and make sure that cases are dealt with in the most appropriate way.
‘The single jurisdiction would increase awareness of different types of alternative dispute resolution methods, including the benefits of solving the dispute before the hearing.’
Smithers said the changes to the system made would enable the Ministry of Justice to make enough savings to scrap the current fees arrangement.
‘Since the introduction of employment tribunal fees the number of disputes proceeding to the tribunal has collapsed by over 60%. The £1,200 that a claimant must pay for most types of cases is close to the average monthly salary, putting the tribunal well beyond the reach on many people, particularly those on lower incomes.’
The importance of the MoJ’s review was stressed by last month's Court of Appeal ruling that the introduction of fees was not unlawful.
Lord Justice Underhill said the lord chancellor had pledged to review how the fees had met financial and behavioural objectives whilst maintaining access to justice.
The judge added: ‘The decline in the number of claims in the tribunals following the introduction of the fees order is sufficiently startling to merit a very full and careful analysis of its causes; and if there are good grounds for concluding that part of it is accounted for by claimants being realistically unable to afford to bring proceedings the level of fees and/or the remission criteria will need to be revisited.’