EMPLOYMENT lawyers have seen a drastic drop in the number of tribunal cases since the government introduced up-front fees a year ago.

The TUC has hailed the drop as a “huge victory” for Britain’s worst bosses.

In the south west, the number of staff taking their employer to a tribunal for unfair dismissal was down 60 per cent in the first quarter of 2014, compared with the same period last year.

Amy Cousineau (pictured), employment solicitor with Dorset-based Coles Miller, said there was some validity to the TUC’s fears.

“There must be something to that because 79 per cent of previous claims would not have all been vexatious claims,” she said.

She said Acas was still “finding its feet” after being made responsible for conciliation in place of tribunals.

But she added: “A lot of my claimant clients and employee clients know when they’ve been wronged and are willing to go that step further for it.”

Kate Brooks, associate solicitor with Ellis Jones’s employment department in Bournemouth, said the big drop in claims did not necessarily mean people were being denied justice.

She said the introduction of ‘pre-termination discussions’ had worked well for staff and employers.

“It’s way of dealing with the matter before you get to the inciting event that would trigger a claim,” she said.

She said going to a tribunal was a stressful experience for all concerned.

“We’re moving more and more towards trying to find a reasonable settlement,” she added.

Sue Evans, partner in the employment team at Lester Aldridge in Bournemouth, was surprised by the extent of the drop. She pointed out that tribunal cases had never been legally aided, while fees can be waived for people on benefits, or covered by union membership or legal insurance.

She added: “It’s highly likely that the impact of fees is going to mean that there is going to be a rise in union membership, because they can see that if they are a member of the union, the union will assist them in paying the fees if they need to make a claim.

“There probably will be a greater number of settlements of via Acas because people would rather settle than have to pay out the fees.

“But I would have thought that although there may be fewer claimants, they will probably be a lot more determined.”