Justice minister Dominic Raab has insisted the argument for court charges still holds up, despite the Supreme Court ordering the government to scrap employment tribunal fees.
Speaking at the Conservative party conference today, Raab accepted that the government had got it wrong over imposing employment tribunal fees, causing claim numbers to plummet. Claimants who did pay the fees of up to £1,200 are still waiting to find out how and when they will be reimbursed.
The Supreme Court said the government was under a duty to ensure laws are applied and enforced, and so must ensure people have ‘unimpeded access’ to courts.
But the court also distinguished employment tribunal fees from county court fees, saying the latter were designed to increase according to the value of the claim and that they had a less deterrent effect.
Raab told a fringe conference event that the Supreme Court had made a case for court fees and he affirmed the principle of ‘user pays’ which has proved controversial with many members of the legal profession.
‘The issue is the balance between requiring and expecting the user of a public service to contribute some and having the rest borne by the taxpayer,’ he said.
‘The dilemma has not gone away – let us not throw the whole principle away.’
Raab said it was difficult for the government to do more to make decisions about fees entirely evidence-based because the data was often incomplete or not analogous. He noted the issue of decision-making over fees was ‘as much art as science’.
Describing the justice system in England and Wales as ‘gold standard’, he stressed the money has to be found to maintain such high standards.
Raab said the government intended to push on with technology investment and efforts to force more cases out of the courtroom setting into a virtual arena.
He said the greater use of video evidence in criminal courts, particularly for victims of violent or sexual offences, will give those testifying greater courage and confidence to come forward.
Rejecting the idea that civil litigants would still want to come to court, he added: ‘[Online courts] can reduce the huge disruption and costs of attending court imposed on individuals and businesses.
‘I am not sure the ‘day in court’ is all it’s cracked up to be.’