What Price Justice, Indeed?
The recent report from the Trades Union Congress, entitled “What Price Justice?” makes sobering reading for those who are already suffering under the current government. Rights enjoyed with regard to access to a Tribunal should workers receive unfair treatment at the hands of their employer no longer exist. The introduction of a fee-scale means that regardless of the veracity of the case to be presented, many cannot access the justice they deserve. This justice is essential in creating and maintaining a fair and equitable workplace for all.
As stated in Pay & Benefits Magazine online*, women seeking justice on sexual discrimination cases has dropped by 80% in a comparable period from January to March 2013 to this year’s figure. Those pursuing justice on race discrimination or homophobic discrimination has dropped by 60% in the same time period. Are we to believe that all of a sudden such discrimination no longer occurs?
The cost of bringing a case, such as claiming unpaid holiday payment or below-minimum-wage payment, to the Tribunal may now cost more than any benefit that might be achieved, and this is affecting the low-waged in particular who statistically will be mainly women and minority workers. The fee remittance system has only helped 24%* of Claimants, denying access to justice to many.
Legal aid is only available for Tribunal cases which are based on discrimination and the reforms to the legal aid system over the last 15 years through successive governments makes accessing the aid very difficult, especially for low-waged workers who may have to pay large travel costs simply to access a solicitor who holds a Legal Aid Agency (LAA – formerly Legal Services Commission) franchise.
From my experience working for a solicitor whose legal aid franchise was removed on the grounds that the firm was too small in number of employees to be granted a franchise, I know there has to be a better than 60% chance of winning the case before the LAA will grant the public funding to the firm to represent you. Seldom will an Employment Tribunal matter be envisioned as a higher than 60% chance of success due to the nature of the complaints being made. The lack of witnesses will affect any cases chance of success, most strongly in cases of discrimination where often you will find witnesses fearful of coming forward.
Unions should and do provide help to all members seeking to make claims, and have approved legal firms through which they work. They may help with funding when legal aid is unavailable. However, this does not address the costs issues which in most cases must be borne by the Claimant.
All this, and the time limit in which to bring your case can be as little as three months from the date of dismissal, if that is part of the claim to be made. Little wonder, then, that the amount of cases being brought is drastically reducing.
Knowing your rights and being able to prove they have been violated are two different things. It seems to me that the price of justice is far too high for those who need it to pay, and that is unacceptable. If justice is not equally applicable, then it is not justice at all.
The full TUC report can be accessed by clicking on this link: http://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/TUC_Report_At_what_price_justice.pdf
A Citizen’s Advice Bureau Guide to Discrimination can be found here: http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/scotland/discrimination_s.htm