Will the Labour party’s plans be a public vote winner

The recent and highly publicised seven-way leaders’ debate certainly generated plenty of headlines, giving the public the first chance to hear the direction the country may take over the next five years.

There was, however, a distinct lack of future justice policies presented by the various parties. Yes, the politicians danced around the edges with tough talk on immigration and zero-hours contracts, but questions and answers about access to justice and the rule of law were ominously absent.

The Labour party appears to be the first out of the block by launching its manifesto this week. Among its plans, should it win power after 7 May, is a pledge to abolish the controversial employment tribunal fees system, which has widely been blamed for a 70 per cent reduction in the number of employment claims since its introduction in July 2013.

The party’s workplace manifesto says: ‘Labour will abolish the government’s employment tribunal fee system as part of reforms to make sure that workers have proper access to justice, employers get a quick resolution, and the costs to the taxpayer are controlled.’

Labour’s plans will likely be applauded by employment lawyers and workers alike but may not sit well with business leaders. Recent research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the representative body for HR professionals, found that 38 per cent of employers think the fees system should be continued, whereas 36 per cent believe the fees should be reduced or abolished. Just over a quarter were undecided.

Of course, Labour’s promises might prove a moot point following the recent news that UNISON has been granted permission by the Court of Appeal to proceed with appeals against the decisions of the High Court refusing its two judicial review applications, which challenge the lawfulness of the fee system.

If the trade union can convince the Court of Appeal that the fees regime is having a significant and unlawful impact on the ability of workers to access justice, then Labour may be spared any future political headache from those captains of industry who have long complained about the damaging effect weak or unsubstantiated claims can have on their business.

Judicial review

Labour’s justice team also promised to scrap controversial changes to judicial reviews that were introduced by the government just prior to the dissolution of parliament.

The Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 were introduced on 26 March and reinstated the withholding of funds in certain types of cases not explicitly covered by a High Court ruling which found against the Lord Chancellor’s reforms to judicial review.

Prior to the latest announcement, Labour had already pledged to reverse the many reforms on judicial reviews introduced by the government, on grounds that the public should be able to hold ministers to account for their actions.

The party’s justice spokesperson, Andy Slaughter, said: ‘The coalition government has been a disaster for access to justice and nowhere more than in its restrictions on judicial review, an essential check for the citizen on executive power.

‘Labour will annul these changes, which are a petulant attempt to disregard the judgment of the High Court, before they come into effect, and will reverse Grayling’s other attacks on judicial review.’

Vote winner?

Whether Labour’s proposals will be a vote winner remains to be seen, but it is now up to the other parties – both large and small – to present their plans on promoting access to justice for all.

This blog post was first published in Solicitors Journal on 10 April 2015 and is reproduced with kind permission