The government announced the abolition of employment tribunal fees this morning after the Supreme Court ruled them unlawful.
Seven justices overturned judgments by the High Court in 2013 and the Court of Appeal in 2015 and unanimously supported an appeal by trade union Unison which argued that the fees were introduced unlawfully and unconstitutionally .
From today, anyone who has been treated illegally or unfairly at work will no longer have to pay to take their employers to court.
The government will also have to refund more than £27m to the thousands of people charged for taking claims to tribunals since July 2013, when fees were introduced by then Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling. They started at around £160, and increased to between £230 and £950 for further hearings. For certain claims claimants had to pay up to £1,200.
Unison claimed that the fees prevented thousands of employees, particularly those on low incomes, from getting justice if they are badly treated by their employers. The case also asked whether fees breached the EU law principle of effectiveness, and whether the policy was indirectly discriminatory, claims which the Supreme Court backed up.
Reacting to this morning‘s decision, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The government is not above the law. But when ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old, and showing little concern for employees seeking justice following illegal treatment at work. “The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too.
Law Society president Joe Egan said: ‘These fees placed an insurmountable barrier in the way of tens of thousands of people. Access to justice is a fundamental right – if you can’t enforce your rights then it renders them meaningless. Today’s decision will serve as an urgently needed wake-up call – justice must never be a luxury for those who can afford it, it is a right we all share.’
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said the ruling should mark an end to tribunal fees standing in the way of people upholding their employment rights. ‘People’s employment rights are only as good as their ability to enforce them. Employment tribunal fees have prevented people from getting justice when they’ve been treated unfairly at work,’ she added.
In a statement following the judgment, justice minister Dominic Raab said: ’In setting employment tribunal fees, the government has to consider access to justice, the costs of litigation, and how we fund the tribunals.
’The Supreme Court recognised the important role fees can play, but ruled that we have not struck the right balance in this case. We will take immediate steps to stop charging fees in employment tribunals and put in place arrangements to refund those who have paid. We will also further consider the detail of the judgment.’