A recent report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission has found that victims of discrimination in the workplace have been unable to obtain legal representation due to legal aid funding cuts.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 reduced the availability of legal aid in employment tribunal claims by introducing a mandatory telephone gateway service, leaving those who have been victims of discrimination in the workplace without face to face advice or representation at a tribunal.
The current eligibility test for legal aid is means and merits based, meaning those wishing to apply need to prove their income is low enough to qualify for government funding whilst also demonstrating they have a claim which is more likely than not to succeed. Many employees exceed the means-based eligibility test for public funding but cannot afford privately paid legal representation at a tribunal, despite having been a victim of discrimination in the workplace which is a fundamental breach of our basic human rights.
The chair of the board of commissioners for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, David Isaac, has said:
“Legal aid was specifically set up to ensure that those who have been wronged, but cannot afford their own legal representation, can access justice.
The threat of legal action is a powerful deterrent for perpetrators and makes it clear that society will not tolerate injustice. Challenging such complex issues as discrimination should never be a David vs Goliath battle, and the system is failing if individuals are left to fight cases themselves at an employment tribunal or in court.”
In an effort to overcome barriers to legal aid faced by those who have been victims of discrimination in the workplace, mandatory use of the telephone gateway service is to be phased out in the hopes of providing better access to legal advice.