Unison’s failure (at the second attempt) to overturn the decision to introduce fees in the employment tribunal is unlikely to be the end of the story. For a start the Union has announced that it will be appealing the decision to the Court of Appeal.
But quite apart from the issue of fees – which appear largely responsible for a dramatic fall in the number of claims reaching the tribunal – there are a number of other issues of concern. Some arise from other relatively recent changes, such as the reduced role of lay members. Others reflect long-standing anomalies in the way the different employment jurisdictions work: for example employment tribunals can award unlimited compensation in discrimination complaints, but are not trusted with purely contractual disputes unless the damages are capped at £25,000, and then only if the dispute arises on termination of employment.
It is arguable that the introduction of fees, rather than fixing the perceived problems with the system, has merely served to highlight an unsustainable irrationality in the way our employment disputes are dealt with in Britain (for good reasons or ill, Northern Ireland has been spared much of the recent modernisation, not least the re-branding of “industrial” tribunals as employment tribunals).
In the wake of a number of new ideas being floated during the party conference season earlier this year, the Law Society has now issued a consultation paper on how employment tribunals should operate in the future. It canvasses a number of possible changes, some of which are likely to be as controversial as the introduction of fees. These include widening the range of claims employment tribunals can hear, allowing for less significant claims to be decided on paper, and introducing some form of costs regime.