[Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair] — Access to Justice: Vulnerable People

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:09 am on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Shadow Attorney General 10:09 am, 19th January 2016

I could not have put it better myself. My hon. Friend makes an important point.

It is time that we grew up. The Bach commission, with its cross-party members—I suspect some appointments are political and some non-political—chosen for their expertise only, not for their politics, will hopefully come to a view that can save money while providing access to the courts, lawyers and justice. As I have said, we need to do that in a non-partisan, non-political way. I sometimes find that difficult to manage, but it is crucial that we grow up.

Before I finish my remarks, I will mention the point made by my hon. Friend Cat Smith. I think we have seen a drop of 80% in employment tribunals. The hon. Member for Warrington South talked about people in the law profession earning more than the Prime Minister, but we now have employment judges sitting idly in tribunals throughout England and Wales with no work to do because of the fee that needs to be paid for a tribunal to be heard.

Women want to raise serious issues. I think of a case that I advised on pro bono and referred the woman to a solicitor: she had told her employer that she would take maternity leave at some point in the not-too-distant future and he said, “Well, that’s not very convenient. I’m afraid you’ll have to find something else to do for a living.” I think she needed to find £1,300 to get her case to a tribunal, but she could not possibly afford that. I managed to find a solicitor who was prepared to act for her pro bono, but she still did not have the money—it would have taken her several months to save that up.

Sadly, the reality is that employers react to those cases only once the money is paid in. Before that, they do nothing—they are using that as a tactic. Therefore, while terrible employers such as that would have to settle if the case was to be taken to tribunal—they would not get anywhere near success, because they had clearly been discriminatory—because the woman concerned could not get the £1,300 together, she was at the stage of saying, “Fair enough, I give in.” The statute bar in employment cases means that people have to get their act together within three months and she could never have managed to save that money up in that period.

I do not know whether I am making this point well or not, but it is not about saving money because we have employment judges with no work to do. It is purely ideological. There is no reason for it—it does not save a penny.