The government has scrapped employment tribunal fees after a Supreme Court ruling

Emma Haslett
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The government has said it will scrap employment tribunal fees and reimburse those who have already paid after the UK's top court unanimously ruled employment tribunal fees are illegal.

In a statement today justice minister Dominic Raab said the government will "take immediate steps" to stop charging for employment tribunals, as well as putting in place arrangements to refund those who have paid.

The move follows a Supreme Court judgement this morning, in which Lord Rees said fees on employment tribunals restricted access to justice.

The prescribed fees interfere unjustifiably with the right of access to justice... frustrate the operation of Parliamentary legislation granting employment rights, and discriminate unlawfully against women and other protected groups.

The case was brought by Unison after the government introduced new rules in 2013 forcing those bringing employment tribunal claims to shell out £390 - although some were forced to pay as much as £1,200.

Unison argued that because tribunals are designed for small claims, such as recovering £100 in unpaid wages, the new system rendered thousands of claims pointless. It also said the rules disproportionately affected women, meaning they were discriminatory.

"If an employer breaks the law and treats one of their employees unfairly, they should be challenged," said Unison general secretary Dave Prentis at the time.

"It cannot be right that unscrupulous bosses are escaping punishment because people simply don't have the money to pursue a case."

Preventing access to justice

Although the rules were originally brought in to prevent claims for small amounts (or just people seeking revenge), Lord Reed said they had put thousands of claimants off seeking justice. Some of those who had pursued claims had been forced to "restrict expenditure that was ordinary and reasonable for maintaining living standards", he added.

"Even where fees are affordable, they prevent access to justice where they render it futile or irrational to bring a claim, for example where in claims for modest or no financial awards no sensible claimant will bring a claim unless he can be virtually certain he will succeed, that the award will include recovery of fees, and that the award will be satisfied in full," he said.

"Further, although the stated purposes of the [fees] are legitimate aims, it has not been shown that [this] was the least intrusive means of achieving those aims.

"The [fee] is also unlawful because [it] contravenes the EU law guarantee of an effective remedy before a tribunal," he said.

"A major victory for employees everywhere"

Today Prentis said: “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.

“The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too.

“It’s a major victory for employees everywhere. Unison took the case on behalf of anyone who’s ever been wronged at work, or who might be in future. Unscrupulous employers no longer have the upper hand."

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