The Supreme Course has held Employment Tribunal fees of up to £1,200 are to be scrapped. The Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab said, “the government will take immediate steps to stop charging fees in employment tribunals and put in place arrangements to refund those who have paid” since July 2013. If you have a grievance with your employer, please contact rhw to have a no obligation initial telephone conversation.

Back in 2013 when the then Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling introduced significantly higher employment tribunal fees, the objective was to prevent the tax payer from funding employee’s claims and also to encourage people to settle disputes at an earlier stage, thus filtering out the less meritorious claims that tribunals were faced with. It is of great concern that at the time it was not considered that these extortionate fees could wholly restrict the access to justice, and that it has taken 4 years of a staggering 70% decline in cases meaning a possibly unimaginable scale of injustice within employment, before these fees have actually been deemed as illegal by the Supreme Court.

The Case – R (on the application of UNISON) (Appellant) v Lord Chancellor (Respondent) [2017] UKSC 51

Unison, one of the UK’s largest trade unions, have been battling long and hard in pursuit of abolishing these fees since they were implicated, as employees have been charged anything from £390 to £1200 to bring a case to an employment tribunal. With this being the only possible root to justice within the workplace, it is quite clear that this is by no means an affordable service, hence why the decline in cases being brought to a tribunal has been so sharp and so great since the fees had been put into place. The extent of this decline coupled with mixed reviews carried out by the MOJ and the House of Commons, showed there was very little evidence to suggest that these fees were actually positively effective, and in fact had adverse impacts on encouraging meritorious claims to be brought to tribunals.

The Decision

Although the Supreme Court by no means rejected the principal of applying fees completely, in the scope of employment and employment tribunals in particular, the Supreme Court deemed these fees to be unlawful. The rights of employees as granted by parliament, with regard to human rights and equality, had effectively been prevented and dishonoured by the government when they enforced these fees, and so because of the discriminatory nature of charging a claimant such extortionate amounts, the Supreme Court had little choice but to abolish them.

The Implications

It is hard to see these tribunal fees as much more than a government revenue generating scheme gone wrong, as it seems somewhat inevitable that a decrease in claims to such an extent would occur in the first place when claimants are being charged at such high rates, especially amongst those of low income backgrounds. Therefore when the failure of these fees has come to light and the government has not made the money it expected to from the fees, a U-turn has been made.

The Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, said “we will take immediate steps to stop charging fees in employment tribunals and put in place arrangements to refund those who have paid”, which it has been estimated will cost the government up to £32 million. Put simply, if you have paid an employment tribunal claim since July 2013 you may have the right to a full refund of the fee.

 

The consequences of the result of this case appear only to be positive, with employees resting assured that they now once again have greater access to justice which is their constitutional right. The number of claims being brought to tribunals will more than likely increase over the next few years but on a wider note, the Supreme Court’s clear priority and endorsement of having access to justice will no doubt ripple across all sectors, should injustices in this regard arise again.


If you need to claim back your fees and need legal assistance, rhw may well be able to help: 01483 302000 or email guildford@rhw.co.uk

Author: Giles Wood (Work Experience Student, August 2017). Prepared under guidance from Mark Ridley, Solicitor in charge of Employment Law and Dispute Resolution.