It’s all very well introducing fees across more courts and tribunals in an effort to keep unmeritorious claims away, but there is always the risk of “throwing the baby out with the bath water”. What about the deserving cases of those who simply cannot afford the fees? Legal Aid is less and less likely to be of any assistance – assuming, of course, it is even available for a particular jurisdiction in the first place.
So, having got the bit between its teeth on Employment Tribunal fees, with their complex fee remission arrangements, the Government has decided to look more widely at the whole question of the remission of fees. Various systems have been implemented over time across the whole range of courts and tribunals, and standardisation is now the name of the game.
Accordingly, the Ministry of Justice has launched a consultation on proposals for a single system of fee remissions (waivers) for all fee paying courts and tribunals.
The main changes being proposed include:
- Introducing a capital test – at the moment there is no capital test so people with low income but large capital don’t have to pay towards court and tribunal fees, meaning the taxpayer picks up the cost;
- Ensuring those who can afford to make a contribution to fees do so – the proposals will mean more contributions from those who can afford it and an income cap to stop high earners receiving remissions;
- Making the remission system simpler – bringing in one unified system to cover the whole of the courts and tribunal system, replacing the complicated current arrangements, and calculating fee remissions using monthly salary figures rather than annual salaries so users have more accessible evidence;
- Full fees remission for people on specific benefits – ensuring access to justice is maintained for those who cannot afford to pay a contribution to a civil court or tribunal fee.
The move to monthly salary figures is likely to be particularly important for those who have just lost their jobs. Significantly, the fee remission calculator included within the consultation documents merely asks for gross monthly income as a single current figure (i.e. without regard to prior income). Consequently if the answer is nil (as it will be for those who have lost their jobs and not found alternative employment) the fee payable is correspondingly nil. As for the capital test, for fees up to £1000 the capital limit is shown as £3000, for fees up to £4000 the limit is £8000 and for fees over £4000 thee limit is £16,000. These are not necessarily the final figures but they do provide a clear indication of what the Government has in mind. However fee remissions are unlikely to be available for claims brought while still in employment such as those alleging discrimination or for written particulars of employment. Is that fair? Well, one perhaps unintended consequence is that those who might have contemplated bringing claims while still in employment (e.g. for unpaid wages or alleging discrimination) might now be more inclined to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal as well, as a way of being entitled to claim fee remissions.
The closing date for submissions was 16 May 2013 and final details should be published shortly – assuming that it is the Government’s intention to bring in the new system to coincide with the introduction of fees in tribunals.