In a humiliating reverse to its justice policies this morning, 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 Law Society described the decision as 'an urgently needed wake-up call’.
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. The case also asked whether fees breached the EU law principle of effectiveness, and whether the policy was indirectly discriminatory, claims which the Supreme Court backed up.
Reacting to the judgment, Law Society president Joe Egan said: ‘These fees placed an insurmountable barrier in the way of tens of thousands of people. Access to justice is a fundamental right – if you can’t enforce your rights then it renders them meaningless. Today’s decision will serve as an urgently needed wake-up call - justice must never be a luxury for those who can afford it, it is a right we all share.’
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