Equal pay is one area that offers no-win, no-fee solicitors the potential to scoop major rewards. It has also witnessed a dramatic rise in tribunal cases
- More than 60,000 equal pay cases were accepted between April 2007 and March 2008 - one-third of all UK tribunal cases.
- This was more than treble the number in 2005-06 and more than 10 times as many as five years ago in 2003-04 (4,412).
- The total number of tribunal claims for 2007-08 was up by more than 40% on the previous year (132,000 in 2006-07 to 189,300 in 2007-08).
- In 2003-04 there were just 4,412 equal pay claims. In 2007-08 there were 62,706. The only other jurisdiction to register such a jump is the Working Time Directive, which rose from 16,869 in 2004-05 to 55,712 in 2007-08.
- There are now almost 100,000 more claims a year than five years ago.
- 62,000 equal pay claims are in progress, while the EHRC estimates a further 150,000 will be lodged in 2008-09.
Source: Tribunals Service
Linda Lee, deputy vice-president, Law Society:
The absence of legal aid for most of the population means that conditional fees are one of the few ways that ordinary citizens can seek justice before the courts. It must be remembered that solicitors are taking all the risk in these cases and receive no payment until after the event. Taking this risk merits significant additional payments on success. Besides, all contentious costs in relation to these claims are subject to the control of the court and there is ample opportunity for any party to challenge the fees if they choose to do so.
Helen Buczynsky, legal officer, Unison:
Contingency fees encourage solicitors to put in minimal effort for maximum reward. This is accentuated in equal pay claims, where no-win, no-fee lawyers can take a substantial proportion of the damages, often from low-paid vulnerable women. It is therefore essential that detailed regulation is put in place to ensure that claimants can make an informed decision about how to proceed, and if they enter a contingency fee agreement they are charged a fair, reasonable and justifiable amount. We hope the proposed regulations will also include linkage to early settlement and a mechanism that makes it possible to challenge the deductions and any unfair penalty clauses in the contracts.
Caroline Carter, head of employment, incentives and pensions, Ashurst: