Employment Tribunal Panels

Justice – in the House of Commons am ar 14 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of proposed reforms to employment tribunal panels.

Photo of Gareth Bacon Gareth Bacon The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The employment tribunal panel composition arrangements are now a responsibility of the Senior President of Tribunals, and I understand that he intends to publish the responses to the consultation on proposed reforms shortly. He has a statutory duty to consult my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor before making these arrangements, and my noble and learned Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice will be meeting the Senior President of Tribunals—I think tomorrow—to discuss his proposals as part of that duty.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

The introduction of tribunal fees previously led to a 54% drop in the number of cases going forward, and the scheme was deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court, so it beggars belief that the Government are looking at reintroducing tribunal fees, and giving a green light to bad employers to exploit workers, who will be deterred from coming forward. What does the Minister say to the 50 organisations, including the TUC, Citizens Advice, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Liberty, that are calling on the Government to reconsider the reintroduction of tribunal fees?

Photo of Gareth Bacon Gareth Bacon The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I thank the hon. Member for his question. Many of these issues were raised when the statutory instrument passed through Parliament. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Mike Freer, who is the courts Minister, has written to the Senior President of Tribunals to convey those concerns, and I think that is in part why my noble and learned Friend is meeting the Senior President of Tribunals tomorrow.[Official Report, 15 May 2024; Vol. 750, c. 6WC.] (Correction)

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

The wheels of justice certainly turn slowly under this Government, and hundreds of thousands of people across the country are paying the price in the Crown courts, the civil courts, the family courts and tribunals. At the end of 2023, the employment tribunal backlog stood at more than 460,000 cases. Those are cases affecting workers who have been bullied, workers who have been denied pay and workers who have been unfairly dismissed. Does the Minister think that workers, like the Government, should just give up on the justice system, roll over and accept what employers do to them, or is there a new magic formula to sort this out?

Photo of Gareth Bacon Gareth Bacon The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The one thing the hon. Gentleman did not of course mention was the impact of the pandemic on the criminal justice system, and indeed on the employment tribunal system. [Hon. Members: “Oh, come on!”] Opposition Front Benchers do not like hearing it, but they cannot deny the impact of shutting down the system, in effect, for two years. We have massively increased the resources available and we are working through the backlog, but that will take time.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration)

On a similar point, in a cost of living crisis, workers are now expected to pay to take their employer to an employment tribunal in cases of wage theft, unpaid redundancy pay and compensation for unfair dismissal. Quite frankly, it is outrageous that this is being levied at a time of intense pressure on family budgets. Do the Government not agree that access to justice must never be contingent on one’s ability to pay, and that these proposed changes ought to be scrapped to promote greater fairness in the system?

Photo of Gareth Bacon Gareth Bacon The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I thank the hon. Member for his question. We have introduced a regional virtual court to safeguard access to justice, and we will always make that available as far as it is possible to do so. As I say, we are working through the backlog at pace.