On 26 July 2017, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld an appeal by UNISON that tribunal fees, introduced by the UK government in 2013, are unlawful under UK and EU law. The ruling, described as “momentous”, has led to the existing fees regime being quashed.
UNISON’s claim, first issued in 2013, was that employment tribunal fees prevented employees on low incomes and those facing discrimination from accessing justice. Judgments from the High Court in 2013 and the Court of Appeal in 2015 both ruled in favour of the Government.
From July 2013, tribunal claims were classified as type A or type B based on how long the claim would take to be resolved. A single claimant filing a type A claim required to pay fees of £390. Type B claims attracted fees of £1200.
In practical terms, the decision of the Supreme Court means:
- Fees are no longer payable for Employment Tribunal or Employment Appeal Tribunal claims.
- Fees paid since 2013 are likely to be repayable by the Government – this will include cases where unsuccessful employers have been ordered to pay employee’s costs.
The President of the Law Society of England & Wales, Joe Egan, described the decision as “a triumph for access to justice, and a resounding blow against attempts to treat justice as a commodity rather than the right it is.” Egan added the decision of the Court supported the views of many that “the hike in tribunal fees… would deny people the chance to uphold their basic rights at work. Today the Supreme Court has vindicated that view and restored access to justice for those mistreated in the workplace.”
The judgement itself points towards a new regime with fees being set at a lower level or a more generous system of remission but this will require legislation so will take time. Another potential consequence is that time-barred claims may now be submitted on the basis that the unlawful fee regime deterred employees from submitting claims in time.
If you are an employer or employee facing difficulties in the workplace, please contact Paul Neilly or Hugh Grant by telephone (0141 552 3422) or email (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org).