Latest News

  • FRU welcomes our latest colleague
    Fri, 06/01/2018 - 13:32

     

    We are pleased to welcome our new Administrator/receptionist. Ayesha Tarannum has a wealth of experience and joins FRU from the Muslim Council of Britain. Ayesha will be the public face of FRU as she welcomes visitors to the office, deals with enquiries and processes referrals.

  • Select Committee publishes FRU evidence on redress for sexual harassment in the workplace
    Fri, 05/25/2018 - 09:58

    The Parliamentary Women and Equalities Select Committee invited FRU to make a submission of evidence to its current enquiry into Sexual harassment in the workplace. Our evidence is published by the Committee at this link https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/women-and-equalities-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/sexual-harassment-workplace-17-19/publications/

     

    We focussed our evidence on the following aspects of the enquiry, which are most relevant to FRU’s work:

    a. The efficacy and accessibility of tribunals and other legal means of redress

    b. Potential improvements to the processes involved in bringing claims, managing a case, attending a hearing, engaging in settlement negotiations and enforcing tribunal awards.

    We made the following key points:

    ·         Someone who has experienced sexual harassment and who chooses to pursue a claim is likely to spend at least six months dealing with the Employment Tribunal (ET) process. The process itself is difficult and distressing. FRU has seen many clients suffer from the effects of this stress. It is not at all uncommon for claimants to suffer from depression, anxiety and similar mental health conditions as a result of this process

    ·         Unless a claimant is a member of a union or has legal expenses insurance, advice and representation is financially out of reach. In the ET, legal costs are not awarded to the winning party as a matter of course. Tribunal awards are generally modest relative to the cost of legal representation, which is driven by the complex nature of these claims, rather than their financial value. This means that the vast majority of cases cannot be funded on a ‘No Win, No Fee’ basis and it is impractical for the claimant to pay privately, even if they have access to funds. This leads to a real or perceived ‘inequality of arms’ between themselves and their (former or current) employer.

    ·         The lack of provision of accessible and affordable early advice to potential claimants significantly inhibits the efficacy of legal remedies as a mechanism for addressing the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. This lack of provision has a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable groups of potential litigants such as claimants with disabilities, migrant claimants, claimants who speak English as an additional language and claimants with caring responsibilities (who are overwhelmingly women).

    ·         In any sexual harassment case the ET needs to make a finding on whether the alleged conduct was unwanted by the claimant. A claimant representing themselves in such a circumstance would be required to challenge the evidence brought by cross-examining employers or colleagues.

    ·         Represented employers generally offer settlement on standard terms, which almost invariably include confidentiality clauses. Claimants representing themselves often don’t realise that they can counter-offer alternative settlement terms in the course of settlement negotiations.

    ·         Claimants need emotional as well as legal support through negotiations, which can be unusually stressful in the context of sex harassment cases.

    ·         The rise in claims following the Unison Supreme Court judgement in July 2017 has placed the administrative and judicial resources of the ET under great strain. Hearings are typically listed for dates nine to twelve months after a claim form is accepted by the Tribunal, with further delays if any postponements are requested by either the employee or employer. Only 52% of open track cases (which will include almost all harassment claims) are resolved within 26 weeks. It is not uncommon for claims to take several years to resolve.

    ·         Due to the longer than average length of cases featuring sexual harassment, the delays in the listing of tribunal hearings significantly hamper the effectiveness of ET claims as a means of redressing sex harassment issues in workplaces. Delays lead to relevant evidence (e.g. email correspondence) and witnesses being more difficult to obtain for the hearing.

    Based on our experience we have made the following recommendations to the Inquiry:

    1.       Extending the three month time limit for the Employment Tribunal to have jurisdiction to hear sexual harassment claims to two years.

    2.       Legal aid provision for both early advice and representation for claimants who have claims which include sex harassment or sex discrimination elements.

    3.       Greater administrative and judicial resources made available to the Employment Tribunal.

  • We are taking part in the London Legal Walk – Please support us
    Wed, 04/25/2018 - 20:57

    The annual London Legal Walk takes place on May 21st. The walk supports a wide range of advice and pro bono charities in the south east and FRU is a major beneficiary. We are entering a team and we want to raise as much money as we can ourselves to support the London Legal Support Trust.

     

    Please support our running costs by making a donation via the following link.

    Better still, why not join our team of walkers and help to raise money yourself? You can read more about the walk and the fantastic work of the London Legal Support Trust here http://www.londonlegalsupporttrust.org.uk/our-events/london-legal-walk-2018/.

     

  • FRU response to MoJ consultation highlights some concerns
    Thu, 04/05/2018 - 15:09

    FRU has made a response to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) consultation paper “Fit for the future: Transforming the court and tribunal estate”. Whilst FRU welcomes some elements of the plans, including ‘pop up’ hearing centres using community facilities, we expressed some concerns about the overall approach.

    The consultation addresses MoJ’s plans for its future requirement for physical court and tribunal venues.

    Our concerns include:

    • The MoJ aims to reduce the number of hearing centres because in future more people will take part in their case online or by video. However the impact on justice from moving away from face to face hearings is currently unknown and the research is limited. Although online or virtual hearings might be more attractive to many court users, they may get a worse outcome than they would have done from a face to face hearing. Reducing the court estate before the impact on justice is known is a gamble that would be hard to reverse.
    • The impact analyses on different groups within society is currently inadequate. For example the MoJ assumes that for most people being involved in legal proceedings is a rare event so longer travel times to a hearing centre are justified. However different groups in society are more likely to be involved in legal proceedings due to their circumstances, for example someone who is dismissed from their employment may have an Employment Tribunal claim and debt or housing issues and may be refused entitlement to a social security benefit. Some groups may be disproportionately affected by these plans and FRU does not believe that these impacts have been adequately identified or addressed.
    • FRU disagrees with proposals to move away from using a target of a given number of hours travel time to a different hearing centre to judge whether a court closure is reasonable. We believe that a target is needed together with real-world modelling of travel times and availability by public transport linked to realistic analysis of case listing practices.
    • We caution against the use of data that suggests that some court and tribunal buildings are under-used. They may be under-used due to a lack of judicial sitting time or other resources, so there may be empty court rooms but lengthy waiting times for cases to be heard. Capacity modelling should ensure that the interests of justice are served by enabling prompt case listing.
    • FRU is concerned that the amount of support that many users will require to access digital services is still being under-estimated.

    We await MoJ’s response to the consultation with interest.

  • Senior Judge highlights FRU’s value
    Thu, 03/29/2018 - 13:15

    Lord Justice Ryder, the Senior President of Tribunals, has highlighted FRU’s longstanding contribution to supporting justice.

    In a recent speech about assisting access to justice, Sir Ernest Ryder pointed to the efforts of the legal profession to demonstrate its civic engagement. He identified FRU as an exemplar of this, and urged the legal profession, universities and legal regulators to collaborate to show leadership in civic engagement with the justice system.
    David Abbott, FRU Chief Executive said “Lord Justice Ryder has statutory responsibility to ensure that the Tribunals are accessible. FRU represents clients in 2 of the largest tribunals; the Social Entitlement chamber and the Employment Tribunal. FRU welcomes LJ Ryder’s endorsement of our work and we support greater collaboration between a wide-range of bodies to extend access to justice.”

    The full text of the speech can be read here: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/speech-ryder-spt-keele-uni-march2018.pdf