Working Theory

by Michael Reed


I do employment law for the Free Representation Unit.


michael at


Valuing value

24 June 2015

Should cases be dealt with an a way that is appropriate to their value? Surely one of those questions to which the answer is obviously ‘yes’.

Shaping court and tribunal processes to match the nature of cases – including their financial value – is a common idea. And it is hard to disagree.

But value, even financial value, is a slippery concept. It’s certainly not a synonym for importance. We can’t draw a simple line with low value cases at one end and high value cases at the other.

For a start, high value cases are not necessarily more complex than simple ones. There may be two cases that come down to ‘How much did we agree to pay you for X?’, where the parties dispute what was said at a single crucial meeting. One involves a difference of £500, the other involves a difference of £500,000. Yet the cases are basically the same.

But more fundamentally, we shouldn’t assume that higher value cases are, in any sense, more important than lower value ones.

A provocative example: does it really matter whether an ousted CEO of a multinational company is entitled to share options valued at £500,000?

No doubt he’d like the money. But he’s already been well compensated for his work; he almost certainly has substantial property, ample savings and a jolly decent pension scheme. The outcome of any dispute will make little difference to his day-to-day life. Nor does it really matter to the company. It’s a mere blip on their balance sheet; a footnote to a footnote in the annual accounts.

On the other hand, an argument over entitlement to benefits or modest sums of wages may be of great importance to the individual claimant. These claims can be life-changing. As they can be for an employer. There are plenty of small firms where a judgement of a few thousand pounds will have a real affect on the future of the business.

If we are worried about the impact of judicial decisions on people, perhaps we should spend more time and effort on the low value claims than the high value ones.

This post must hat-tip to Sir Terence Etherton’s speech on Challenges facing the judiciary in the next Parliament where he discusses the need to adapt judicial approaches to different types of case. However, I should also make clear that Sir Terence isn’t proposing the simplified approach I’m saying must be avoided. He’s clear that value is only part of the consideration.

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