Today’s Supreme Court Decision on Employment Tribunal Fees

The Supreme Court  has today upheld a challenge to the controversial tribunal fees brought by trade union, Unison in a landmark decision.

Unison began its legal battle arguing that the fees of up to £1,200 introduced by the Government in 2013, unfairly prejudiced low and medium paid workers from accessing justice for being unfairly treated by their employers.

The rise in tribunal fees made it extremely hard for particularly low paid workers to exercise any kind of legal recourse against their employer. Statistics have recorded a 70% drop in the number of claims brought in tribunals since the fees were introduced. The Supreme Court judges today acknowledged this, describing the high fees as having such a serious deterrent upon claims that it has had the effect of dissuading the more genuine claims (including discrimination) rather than achieving the desired effect of deterring vexatious and unmeritorious legal action. The Court acknowledged that the arguments presented by Unison exposed the reality that such extortionate fees could not reasonably be afforded by those on low to middle incomes.

In allowing Unison’s appeal against the fee regime, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Government acted unlawfully in its introduction of the regime four years ago, citing that the Government failed ‘not just on simple economics but on constitutional law and basic fairness’.

In terms of what this could mean for claimants, Unison has called for the Government to compensate the thousands of individuals who have already been charged for bringing a claim against their employer and has stated that the decision itself means that “anyone treated unfairly at work will no longer have to pay to take their employers to court” going forward. The Ministry of Justice has just reported that the Government intends to take immediate steps to cease charging tribunal fees and also to begin refunding retrospective payments. The Financial Times has estimated that the level of any such compensatory figure could amount to around £27 million.

Given the unprecedented nature of today’s ruling, it is yet to become clear what the impact of the outcome will be. We will follow with more updates once further details have been published.

If this article raises any questions, or if you have any employment related queries in general, please contact the employment team on 0191 226 7878.

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