The Government has suffered an embarrassing blow after the announcement that fees for bringing cases to an Employment Tribunal have been ruled as ‘unlawful’ by the Supreme Court.
The fees, ranging between £390 and £1,200, were introduced in 2013 to reduce time and money spent on speculative and malicious employment law cases, but have since led to a 79% reduction over the past three years and outcry from unions, employee rights organisations and the legal profession.
The government is said to now be in line to pay £32 million to claimants after trade union, Unison, successfully argued workers were now being denied access to the justice they were entitled to.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘This is absolutely a tremendous victory, it's probably the biggest victory of employment rights in this country.’
The Supreme ruled the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees, which were indirectly discriminatory to women who were more likely to bring cases of discrimination before the Employment Tribunal, and denying legal process to claimants in low or middle income households who could not afford the fees ‘without sacrificing ordinary and reasonable expenditure for substantial periods of time’.
Sue Ball, Head of Employment and Managing Director of Verisona Law, said ‘This is a surprise result, not least because of the time it has taken to contest and argue the case against Employment Tribunal fees.’
‘From the employee perspective, there can be no doubt there is sound reasoning behind this ruling. Legal recourse should not only be available to those who can afford it, and the erosion of Legal Aid and access to legal services is still a huge problem in this country.’
‘However, from the employers’ point of view, it is like ‘going back to square one’. Some cases brought against employers are spurious and can be expensive, time-consuming distractions from running a business.’
‘Ideally, I would like to see a middle ground with a filter process that assesses the merits of a case and not the ability to pay fees. Public money would then be saved as regards the costs of running the Employment Tribunal service; people who have been wronged by their employer would have access to justice; and employers would have an early opportunity to challenge unmeritorious or frivolous claims.’