In perhaps the most important judgment in employment law of the last fifty years, the government announced the abolition of employment tribunal fees after the Supreme Court ruled them unlawful.
The surprise ruling by seven justices overturned judgments by the High Court in 2013 and the Court of Appeal in 2015. Instead, the justices unanimously backed an appeal by trade union Unison which argued that the fees were introduced unlawfully.
The immediate consequence is that the Fees Order is quashed so that as of today fees cease to be payable for claims in the employment tribunal (ET) and appeals to the EAT, and fees paid in the past must be reimbursed.
Partner and Head of Employment Law at Peter Lynn and Partners, Stuart Atherton said: “This is a significant ruling for both employers and employees alike. The effect is that it is simpler for claims to be made in the employment tribunals against businesses and there is no need for employees to find any fees to do so. The likelihood is that there will be an increase in the number of claims being brought and this will be felt by employers and business who will have to defend themselves”.
Tribunal fees were introduced in July 2013 by a fees order made by then Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling. They started at around £160 and increased to between £230 and £950 for further hearings. For certain claims claimants had to pay up to £1,200.
Unison claimed that the fees prevented thousands of employees, particularly those on low incomes, from getting justice if they are badly treated by their employers. Stuart commented “The introduction of the fees back in 2013 was a factor that saw a significant decrease in the number of claims being submitted and this “obstacle” has now been removed. Employers will have to make sure that all matters that involve employees and staff (including business mergers, acquisitions and disciplinary matters) will need to be conducted carefully and in strict accordance with the law. This is important anyway but is placed into sharp focus with the abolition of all tribunal fees”.
The long-term consequence is that the Supreme Court has given the strongest possible endorsement of the fundamental public importance of access to justice, meaning that future restrictions of all kinds (and not just financial barriers) on access to the courts will be subject to the closest scrutiny.
For expert advice on matters relating to Employment Tribunals or Employment Appeal Tribunals whether you are an employee or employer, contact Stuart Atherton on 01792 450010 or email Stuart.Atherton@plandp.co.uk