Mon, 11 December 2023

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Government facing multi-million pound bill as Supreme Court rules employment tribunal fees unlawful

John Ashmore

3 min read

The Government faces having to pay back millions of pounds in employment tribunal fees after the Supreme Court ruled the controversial charges are illegal.

In a huge victory for the Unison trade union, the UK's highest court unanimously agreed that the fees, introduced by then Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling in 2013, were unlawful because they “prevent access to justice”.

The court had heard how there had been a massive drop in the number of tribunal cases since the fees were introduced.

Today’s decision means from now on, claimants will not have to pay to bring a case against their employer.

Unions estimated that the the Ministry of Justice now faces having to repay some £27m in fees levied in the last four years.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said the ruling showed the Government “is not above the law”.

"When ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old, and showing little concern for employees seeking justice following illegal treatment at work,” he said.

“The Government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too.”

The head of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, called the news a “massive win for working people” and called for fees to be refunded “as soon as possible”.

Unite boss Len McCluskey said: "Unite has stood by our members and covered their tribunal costs ensuring that they can get a hearing but it was an appalling decision by the Tories to say that a worker's access to justice was dependent on the size of their wallet.

"We congratulate Unison on this victory today because this will now restore some balance to the workplace."


In its judgment, the court said the fees were not lawful because they had clearly prevented people from using the tribunals system.

The judges said there had been a “dramatic and persistent fall” in the number of employment tribunal claims since the introduction of fees.

They also said the fees could not be argued to be “affordable” if families on modest incomes were forced to “forgo an acceptable standard of living” to pay them.

"Even where fees are affordable, they prevent access to justice where they render it futile or irrational to bring a claim, for example where in claims for modest or no financial awards no sensible claimant will bring a claim unless he can be virtually certain he will succeed,” the judgement reads.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, the statutory body in charge of enforcing equalities legislation, said the ruling was a “damning verdict” on the Government’s policy.

“It is a licence to discriminate for employers and must be scrapped,” said EHRC chair David Isaac.

"The law only works if people know that it is a fair and just system and the biggest and strongest will not always win.”

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