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Concern at fall in tribunal cases

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Legal firms and unions are worried by the dramatic fall in the number of tribunal cases announced by the Ministry of Justice yesterday.

Quarterly employment tribunal figures released yesterday showed the number of tribunals brought between October and December last year is 79% less than the same period in 2012. 

The Government introduced fees for employees bringing tribunal cases in July 2013. Since then, the number of cases has decreased sharply. UNISON took legal action against the Government in November 2013, calling the fees unlawful. The union reacted with alarm to the results announced this week. 

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: "The figures out today are shocking and the disastrous impact of tribunal fees is now blatantly obvious. The introduction of fees was unfair and they should be dropped, which is what we hope to argue in the Court of Appeal."

Tom Flanagan, partner and national head of employment at law firm Irwin Mitchell, said that while the numbers are falling, the cases are getting more complex. He also offered some more reasons for the figures.

"One key reason could be the increase to two years of the qualification period for unfair dismissal. There has also been the change to the compensation cap for unfair dismissal."

Flanagan said that these factors could lead to employers being less legally exposed than in previous years. 

Other legal professionals are more concerned about the release. Richard Fox, head of employment law at Kingsley Napley LLP and chair of the employment lawyers association, said the figures show employees are being deterred from action by the fees.

He added that this may lead to larger numbers joining unions to protect their interests. "We are going through a seismic shift in employment law and the most significant in the last decade," he said.