26 July 2017
Unison has won a landmark victory in the Supreme Court today (26 July 2017), as the highest judges in the land unanimously ruled that the government’s tribunal fee system is unlawful.
The public sector union brought a judicial review against the government when it first launched tribunal fees in July 2013, and has continued to fight the case for four years.
Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that employment tribunal fees are unconstitutional, they will be scrapped and the thousands of workers who have paid up to £1,200 to hold their employer to account over the past four years will be reimbursed more than £27 million in total.
“The government is not above the law. But when ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old, and showing little concern for employees seeking justice following illegal treatment at work,” General Secretary of Unison Dave Prentis said.
“The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too,” he added.
Indeed, the seven Supreme Court judges described the government’s claim that tribunal fees would lead to an increase in demand as against “elementary economics, and plain common sense” and ruled that the charges have “had a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims, among others”, putting more genuine claimants off pursuing their case than those who would consider making a vexatious claim.
The worst hit claimants were those bringing “low-value” cases – generally people in precarious work, the Court said, adding that access to justice is a principle with value to society as a whole, not only to the “users” of the employment tribunals service.
“These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up,” Dave Prentis said.
“We’ll never know how many people missed out because they couldn’t afford the expense of fees. But at last this tax on justice has been lifted.”