Last week, the interim report of Lord Justice Briggs’ Civil Courts Structure Review was published by the Ministry of Justice.
That may sound like a fairly straightforward bureaucratic document, but contained within it is a proposal that could further limit access to justice for many of those who need it most.
Lord Justice Briggs suggests – near the end of a lengthy report – that the employment tribunal system might be rolled into the civil courts structure. If fully implemented, this would completely undermine the industrial jury role of employment tribunals and undoubtedly act as a further deterrent to those who need to take legal action against their employers.
UNISON has been at the forefront of the fight against punitive fees for employment tribunals – challenging the changes in the High Court and appealing to the Supreme Court – because we know the impact these deeply damaging changes will have on access to justice.
UNISON members, members of other unions and those without union support will all have further serious concerns about the cost and availability of legal challenges if such proposals are pushed through in the months ahead.
At the same time, the report suggests that more employment tribunal cases might be dealt with and decided online. This obsession with “ebay justice” might go down well with Tory think tanks in Westminster, but for many they’re a source of real anxiety.
Articulating a grievance and making a good case might come easily to highly paid professionals, but for other workers – especially those without the support of a union – the prospect of securing justice would be bleak.
No doubt it will be argued that such changes will increase access to justice, but disturbingly they’re likely to achieve the exact opposite.
At a time when workers rights are already being steadily and persistently undermined by the government, UNISON members will be rightly concerned to hear proposals which could put justice for those mistreated by employers even further out of reach.
UNISON will be participating fully in any consultations that take place, but in the meantime, I’ll be urging Lord Justice Briggs – and the Justice Secretary – to commit to meeting a group of our members.
They know what’s at stake with these changes.
Their voice must not be absent from this debate.