Aldeburgh/Laxfield: Winner in unfair dismissal case highlights legal aid cut concerns
17:30 19 June 2014
A sacked employee of a Suffolk golf club who received £50,000 after winning an unfair dismissal claim fears legal aid cuts will deny justice to others involved in such cases.
Judge Robin Postle, as reported in Tuesday’s EADT, said that Margaret Chadwick had been the victim of a “witch hunt” at Aldeburgh Golf Club and ruled that her dismissal in October 2012 was unfair.
Although Mrs Chadwick, a grandmother from Laxfield, said the justice system had done her a “wonderful” job, she also highlighted concerns that changes to legal aid would prevent others from fighting back, as she had done, against workplace maltreatment.
“We seem to be going back to a time when the law will no longer be there for us,” she said.
“It’s so unfair. I know there are many people who are made to suffer a dreadful time at work but they can’t do anything about it because they’re too scared of losing their jobs.”
The government introduced fees for employment tribunal cases in July 2013, costing people £250 to lodge claims and £950 if it goes to hearing.
Figures published by the Ministry of Justice last week revealed a 59% drop in the number of employment tribunal claims made over the last quarter and a 79% fall the quarter before that.
Steve Hynes, director of the Legal Action Group, said it was a “ridiculous situation” and praised Mrs Chadwick for using her circumstances to highlight the problem.
“The figures have fallen off a cliff,” he said. “It’s a direct consequence of the changes that have gone on.”
“If the government has any commitment to give access to people who have suffered dismissal it must take action to address this.
“People are missing out and it’s encouraging poor employers to get away with bad employment practices, which is unfair to employees and the vast majority of reputable employers.”
Justice Minister Shailesh Vara said justice reforms were necessary to reduce costs and retain a sustainable system, for those who need it and the taxpayer who pays for it.
“It is in everyone’s interest to avoid drawn-out disputes which emotionally damage workers and financially damage businesses.
“That’s why we are encouraging quicker, simpler and cheaper alternatives like mediation and arbitration,” he said.
“It is not fair for the taxpayer to foot the entire £74m bill for people to escalate workplace disputes to a tribunal. And it is not unreasonable to expect people who can afford to do so, to make a contribution. As for those who cannot afford to pay, fee waivers are available.”
A tribunal ruled Mrs Chadwick had been unfairly dismissed from her role as assistant secretary at the golf club after raising concerns about a colleague’s alleged inappropriate behaviour with a club member.
Both parties “categorically, vehemently and consistently” denied Mrs Chadwick’s allegations.