Supreme Court rules employment tribunal fees are unlawful
26 July, 2017
On the 26th July 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that tribunal fees for those bringing employment law cases to court are unlawful. They also said that the introduction of fees in 2013 was unconstitutional. This is not only great news for future claimants, but also those who have been affected by tribunal fees since their introduction, as the government will now be required to refund around £32 million to those affected.
Fees ranging from £390 - £1,200 were introduced in 2013 as the government believed this would stop people taking ‘weak’ cases (i.e. smaller cases) and malicious cases to court. Whilst they were introduced supposedly to stop the system being abused, campaigners from the trade union Unison argued that they only served to restrict access to justice. This is supported by a 79% drop in cases in the past three years (see data below).
The Court’s ruling said that for many low and middle class income earners, the fees meant sacrificing ‘ordinary and reasonable expenditure for substantial periods of time’, and for many the cost of bringing a case to tribunal and paying the fees would mean that any financial reward was pointless.
Unison have been battling to have the fees scrapped, since their introduction four years ago. They argued that fees were not only preventing workers from seeking justice, but that they were also discriminatory towards women. The most expensive fees applied to discrimination cases, due to the complexity and time of the hearings. The Supreme Court found that this was ‘indirectly discriminatory’ as, proportionately, more women bring discrimination cases. By charging more for these cases, this meant that not only were they only providing access for higher paid workers, but also proportionately more men.
Following the Supreme Court ruling, the Ministry of Justice have responded that they will immediately act to make sure that no further charges are made and payments are refunded. Prior to the ruling the government had already voluntarily committed to reimbursing fees if it was found they had acted unlawfully.
The government say they must now work out the ‘right way’ to prevent the court system from being ‘clogged up’ by ‘frivolous or spurious claims’ whilst also making sure that there is access to justice for all.
In response to the ruling, Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, said that the numbers of those who have missed out because they were unable to afford the expense of fees unfortunately might never be known. He also added that the fees had meant that lower paid workers were forced to ‘put up or shut up’ whilst law-breaking bosses were ‘let off the hook’ because their employees could not afford to bring a case against them. He added that ‘Unscrupulous employers no longer have the upper hand.’ This was echoed by the TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady who argued that the fees had given employers ‘free rein to mistreat staff’ and that the ruling is a ‘massive win’ for workers.
Andy Cullwick, Head of Marketing at First4Lawyers says ‘the Supreme Court ruling will benefit employees tremendously. The introduction of tribunal fees meant that it was easier for unscrupulous employers to take advantage of their employees without fear of recourse, especially those on lower wages. Those who are paid less were likely to be unable to take their case to court with tribunal fees in place. This ruling should now mean that justice in employment cases is there for all, not just those who can afford it, and employers will have to stay on their toes to make sure they stay within the law.’