Employment tribunal fees ruled unlawful

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Jul 27, 2017
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The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling was welcomed by trade unions 

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The government may have to repay an estimated £27 million in tribunal fees to thousands of employees after a landmark victory that the charges discriminate against women and other workers.

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison, the trade union that brought a challenge to the controversial fees of up to £1,200 to bring employment tribunal claims. After the fees were introduced there was a 70 per cent drop in the numbers of claims brought in tribunals across England and Wales over four years and they have been widely condemned as limiting access to justice. The UK’s highest court unanimously ruled that the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees four years ago.

Unison said the ruling meant that the Government will have to refund more than £27 million to the thousands of people charged for taking claims to tribunal since July 2013, when fees were introduced by Chris Grayling, the lord chancellor at the time. Dave Prentis, the union’s general secretary, 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.

“We’ll never know how many people missed out because they couldn’t afford the expense of fees, but at last this tax on justice has been lifted.”

Anthony Fincham, a partner at the City of London law firm CMS, said: “This decision will be widely welcomed and not only by trade unions and employee lobbies.” In an article for The Brief, Fincham estimated that 300,000 tribunal claimants could be eligible for a refund from the Ministry of Justice.

Businesses leaders reacted with caution to the ruling. Neil Carberry, a managing director at the Confederation for British Industry, said his organisation had “long held the view that the current Employment Tribunal fees regime is flawed and should be reformed. Access to justice is essential and must be protected”. However, he added that “there was an important role for a proportionate fee that acts as an incentive to ensure that going to tribunal is always a last resort”.

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