Friday, 28 July 2017

News Roundup 12

The news about employment tribunal fees means yet another reversal of a flawed Chris Grayling policy. This from the BBC website:-  

Employment tribunal fees unlawful, Supreme Court rules

Fees for those bringing employment tribunal claims have been ruled unlawful, and the government will now have to repay up to £32m to claimants. The government introduced fees of up to £1,200 in 2013, which it said would cut the number of malicious and weak cases. Government statistics showed 79% fewer cases were brought over three years - trade union Unison said the fees prevented workers accessing justice. The government said it would take steps to stop charging and refund payments.

The Supreme Court ruled the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees. Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong - not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too."

He added: "These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up. We'll never know how many people missed out because they couldn't afford the expense of fees."

Proper access to justice

The government had already made a voluntary commitment to reimburse all fees if it was found they acted unlawfully. Fees have raised about £32m since being introduced. Justice minister Dominic Raab said the government would cease taking fees for employment tribunals "immediately" and begin the process of reimbursing claimants, dating back to 2013. He said: "We respect the judgement and we are going to take it fully on board and we are going to comply with it." It would fall to the taxpayer to pick up the bill, he said.

"The tricky, the difficult, the fluid balancing act that we've got is we want to make sure there's proper access to justice, we want to make sure frivolous or spurious claims don't clog up the tribunal and at the same time we've got to make sure we've got the right way to fund it.," he said.

Fees ranged between £390 and £1,200. Discrimination cases cost more for claimants because of the complexity and time hearings took. The Supreme Court found this was indirectly discriminatory because a higher proportion of women would bring discrimination cases.

Cases sent to employment tribunals

It also said that some people would not bring cases to employment tribunals because paying the fees would render any financial reward pointless. The court's summary added claimants in low or middle income household could not afford the fees "without sacrificing ordinary and reasonable expenditure for substantial periods of time".

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said it was a "massive win" for workers. "Too many low-paid workers couldn't afford to uphold their rights at work, even when they've faced harassment or have been sacked unfairly," she said.

The decision was welcomed by employment lawyer Karen Jackson, who said: "I don't know an employment lawyer who didn't think it was wrong to have fees. "We all felt that morally it was the wrong thing to do as a barrier to justice."


The Daily Mirror succinctly catalogues the Grayling legacy:-

The full list of Tory Chris Grayling's failures as Justice Secretary

Eight of the Tory minister's reforms from his three years as Justice Secretary have either been scrapped or overturned by a court

Tory minister Chris Grayling was dealt another embarrassing blow today, when the Supreme Court ruled his unfair tribunal fees were illegal. And it's far from the only failure from his three years as Justice Secretary. By our count, eight of the major reforms to prisons and the justice system he introduced while he was in the job have either been overturned by a court or dropped by the party. And there's potentially a ninth on the way.

Here's a full list of Chris Grayling's failures.

1. Banning books for prisoners
He spent £72,000 defending a High Court challenge to his ban on family members sending books to prisoners.

2. Criminal court charges
The Tories scrapped ‘unfair’ criminal court charges of up to £1,000 which critics said would make innocent people plead guilty, after more than 50 magistrates quit in disgust.

3. Saudi prison training contract
He masterminded an ill-fated £5.9m deal with Saudi Arabia to run a training programme for prisons, which was dropped after public outcry.

4. Prisoner tagging scheme
A £23 million prisoner tagging scheme he unveiled was also axed, after the firm he awarded the contract to failed to deliver on the hardware.

5. Legal aid for domestic violence victims
New rules demanding victims of domestic violence must provide proof the abuse was recent before claiming legal aid were branded “invalid” by the court of appeal.

6. Legal aid for prisoners
Cuts to legal aid for existing prisoners were ruled “unlawful and unfair”.

7. Privatising prisons
Plans to privatise three prisons were dropped within months of being announced, in the fallout from the electronic tagging scandal.

8. Tribunal fees
Today's ruling ridiculed the government’s misunderstanding of “elementary economics, and plain common sense”, when it claimed higher fees would mean increased demand."

In their judgement, they ruled the fees had a "deterrent effect upon discrimination claims, among others” and put off more genuine cases than so-called ‘vexatious’ claims the government claimed the fees were supposed to deter. The government now has to pay back about £27 million in unlawful fees.

...and here's another one that could be on the way.

9. Probation service privatisation
A report by the chief inspectors of probation and prisons published last month said his botched privatisation of the probation service could be dropped “with negligible impact.”


The latest prison statistics regarding prison safety rather shockingly put into context the recent news regarding Michael Spurr's £20,000 bonus. This from Frances Crook of the Howard Legue:-

Prison assaults and self-injury incidents soar to record highs

The number of assaults and incidents of self-injury in prisons in England and Wales have risen to record highs, figures seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today (Thursday 27 July).

Official statistics, published by the Ministry of Justice, show that 26,643 assault incidents were recorded in the 12 months to the end of March 2017 – a 20 per cent increase on the previous year. Assaults on staff rose by 32 per cent.

Serious assaults, including those requiring medical attention at hospital, have almost trebled in four years. There were 3,606 such incidents recorded during the 12 months to the end of March 2017 – a 22 per cent increase on the previous year. Prisons recorded 40,414 self-injury incidents during the 12 months to the end of March 2017 – a 17 per cent rise from the previous year. This is the fifth successive quarter when incidents of self-injury have reached their highest-ever level.

The figures show that 316 people died in prisons during the 12 months to the end of June 2017, slightly down from 322 during the previous year. They included 97 people who lost their lives through suicide – 91 in men’s prisons and six in women’s prisons. This is a slight fall from the previous year, when 107 people lost their lives through suicide.

Annual performance rankings show that the number of prisons with the lowest possible rating has risen from six to 10. The lowest-ranked prisons – Bedford, Birmingham, Bristol, Brixton, Guys Marsh, Hindley, Liverpool, Pentonville, Wandsworth and Wormwood Scrubs – are all rated as performing at a level that causes “serious concern”. The statistics come a week after Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons reported that the state was failing in its duty to people in prison.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The rising tide of violence and human misery gets higher and higher as chronic overcrowding and staff shortages continue to drive the prison system into chaos. How many people have to die before action is taken?

“The new Secretary of State for Justice must act now to stop the death toll. The first step to recovery is to recognise that there is a problem. The second step is to do something about the problem. By taking bold but sensible steps to reduce the prison population, we can save lives and prevent more people being swept away into deeper currents of crime and despair.”


Finally, I see Private Eye has picked up on the MoJ sneakily paying the CRCs more money for their failure to deliver on the probation contracts:- 


  1. Bob Neil chair of the justice select committee wrote in the Times the other day that urgent work is need to be done on legal aid, prison and probation. He expressed concern that the select committee was not yet operational, and with only 2 weeks between Parliament reforming and the conference season beginning it was unlikely that the issues needing addressing were unlikely to get the urgent attention required.
    It seems that the government are putting so much resources into suppressing information about the chaos in the criminal justice system, it hasn't the time to actually deal with the problems.
    In today's Independent, there's a long article which claims Michael Gove was right, we need to stop sending people to prison that don't really pose a risk to society, and more community based sentences should be imposed, particularly for non violent offenders.
    I agree with that approach. Prison is the cause, and not the solution to many of problems within the world of criminal justice.

    1. In view of paywall, can any kind reader supply the Bob Neill article? thanks.

  2. Well done to Unison for bringing this action to the High Courts and ending the deeply unfair practice of payment to take a case to an Employment Tribunal.