Supreme Court Rules Employment Tribunal Fees Unlawful
In breaking news, the Supreme Court has ruled the Employment Tribunal fees imposed by the government in 2013 are unlawful.
The government has stated moves are being made to scrap the fees immediately.
The challenge was brought by trade union organisation, Unison, who argued that the fees, which could reach up to £1,200, prevented many employees obtaining access to justice.
After the fees were introduced, employee claims heard in the Employment Tribunal reduced by 79%.
The background to the Employment Tribunal fees
The Employment Tribunal Fees were introduced in 2013 by the Conservative government. They were designed to prevent vexatious and petty claims by employees against employers. The government also stated that users of the court system should contribute to the costs of court services.
Fees ranged between £390 and £1,200. Discrimination cases cost more for claimants because of the complexity and time hearings took. Therefore, women, especially those who were discriminated against on maternity grounds, found themselves especially penalised by the introduction of the fees.
The Supreme Court declared that the government acted unlawfully and unconstitutionally from the beginning. As pointed out by David Allen Green, in an opinion in the Financial Times, “the key issue was not that there were fees. The problem was that the fees introduced made no sense other than to deter people from enforcing their statutory rights. What parliament had given, executive action was taking away.”
Reimbursing fees already paid
The government had already made a voluntary commitment to reimburse all fees if it was found they acted unlawfully. Fees have raised about £32 million since being introduced.
Justice minister Dominic Raab said the government would cease taking fees for Employment tribunals "immediately" and begin the process of reimbursing claimants, dating back to 2013.
He said: "We respect the judgement and we are going to take it fully on board and we are going to comply with it."
However, the burden of paying back the fees will fall on the taxpayer.
"The tricky, the difficult, the fluid balancing act that we've got is we want to make sure there's proper access to justice, we want to make sure frivolous or spurious claims don't clog up the tribunal and at the same time we've got to make sure we've got the right way to fund it.," Mr Raab said.
employment lawyers have welcomed the decision. Most have criticised the fees and complained about their preventing access to justice since the day they were introduced.
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