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The Supreme Court has ruled that controversial tribunal fees are unlawful because they prevent access to justice and are discriminatory under the Equality legislation.

This week the Supreme Court has ruled that the Government-imposed fees are unlawful following a four-year battle by Unison, the UK’s largest trade union. The union achieved the landmark victory after they argued that the fees of up to £1,200 interfered unjustifiably with the right of access to justice under both common law and European law, that they frustrated the operation of laws granting employment rights, and that they discriminated unlawfully against women and other protected groups of workers.

The Supreme Court agreed with those arguments, pointing out, for example, that the Magna Carta guarantees access to courts which administer justice promptly and fairly.  In relation to discrimination, it was noted that the fees were discriminatory because a higher proportion of women bring claims that fell into the more expensive of two categories of fees, including claims relating to sex discrimination, equal pay, and pregnancy dismissal.

What are the fees?

Employment tribunal fees have been in place since 2013, and caused controversy when they were introduced. Their introduction four years ago meant that, before making a claim, claimants would have to pay fees rising up to £1,200.

A drop in claims

Over the past four years, significantly fewer people have taken their claims to employment tribunals due to these fees. A government review has found that the number of cases fell by over 70 per cent since the fees were introduced.

Critics of the fees argued that many claimants would invariably be in a weaker financial position due to having lost their jobs. The fees, they argued, would mean that access to justice would be hard to come by for many, leaving employers free to act unfairly without threat of a claim being made.

Unison General Secretary, David Prentis said of the victory:

These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up.

It's a major victory for employees everywhere. Unison took the case on behalf of anyone who's ever been wronged at work, or who might be in future.

How will this now affect you?

The Ministry of Justice has moved quickly to state that the Government will take immediate steps to stop charging employment tribunal fees and refund those who have paid. Figures suggest that this would be a repayment of £27-32 million.

If, therefore, you have had an employment case brought to an employment tribunal in the past four years, you may be entitled to a refund of the fee.

It is also good news for employees for the future. The tribunal fees will no longer be a deterrent to bringing forward a claim.  

How we can help

Our expert employment law team can answer any questions you may have regarding the change to these fees, or more generally about a possible employment issue. If you would like to speak to one of our team, please call 0151 666 9090 or fill out our Quick Enquiry” form.

A full summary of the ruling can be found here (pdf).

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