The Ministry of Justice has once again refused to say when it intends to publish a review of the effects of employment tribunal fees.
The department was criticised last month by the justice committee of the House of Commons for delaying the publication of the report, which was intended to come out at the end of 2015.
During a Commons debate on the committee’s report yesterday, justice minister Dominic Raab apologised for the delay but could only say publication will be ‘as soon as is practicable’.
‘The review is very close to completion, so I hope to be able to make an announcement in the near future,’ he added.
Raab said employment tribunal fees, introduced in July 2013, have succeeded in bringing ‘the right kind of behavioural change’, despite a fall of up to 70% in claims brought.
‘The main concern about employment tribunal fees has been the large fall in the number of claims immediately after fees were introduced, but it is not that surprising that the volume of claims has fallen,' he said. ‘It is obvious that more people will use a service if it is free than if they have to pay to use it.’
Raab said the ACAS conciliation service and remission system for paying fees have helped to offset the effects of the new charges.
The justice committee was also critical of the increase in divorce fees, citing Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division, who said it risked turning into a ‘poll tax on wheels’.
The justice minister assured MPs that the government has sought to make sure vulnerable women are protected within the divorce fees scheme.
‘Women are more likely to qualify for a fee remission. In the circumstances of a divorce or any other matter where the parties have conflicting interests in proceedings, the applicant is assessed on his or her own means, rather than on those of the household.’
Raab said there was ‘no getting away’ from the fact the principal reason for raising fees was financial.
Labour has committed to scrapping the employment tribunal fees system, but the minister said that position ignored the financial reality.
‘The raw truth is that the Ministry of Justice is not a protected department. We have a very challenging financial settlement, so we must reduce its annual spending by 15% in real terms, which means about £1bn in cash terms by 2019-20.’
This could mean further increases in future, he said. Enhanced fees were introduced in March 2015 for money claims, but plans to increase the threshold above the current £10,000 limit were shelved. Raab said ministers ‘may need to come back’ to those proposals.