TheUK Supreme Court has ruled that the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced Employment Tribunal fees in 2013 for claims such as unfair dismissal, equal pay and redundancy. The charges of up to £1,200 led to a 70% drop in the number of tribunals in England and Wales and were condemned as impeding access to justice.
The government has agreed to scrap tribunal claims fees for them and pay back £27 million and employers are bracing themselves for a surge in new claims. Ministers said that they would take immediate steps to refund payments after the Supreme Court upheld a challenge by Unison that the charges were discriminatory. Dominic Raab, the justice minister, said: “The Supreme Court recognised the important role fees can play, but ruled that we have not struck the right balance in this case.”
Unison welcomed the ruling, which it said would mean more than £27 million would be paid back to nearly 250,000 people charged since July 2013, when the fees were introduced by Chris Grayling, the lord chancellor at the time. Dave Prentis, general secretary of the union, 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. It’s a major victory for employees everywhere.”
But Charlie Mullins, the millionaire founder of Pimlico Plumbers and a Conservative Party donor, described the court ruling as disgraceful. He told World at One on BBC Radio 4 that the benefit of leaving the European Union would be to get rid of “this stupid law”.
In a leading article The Times commented “A few years ago, vexatious cases by disgruntled employees or ex-employees were the bane of many a small business owner’s life. With or without a legitimate claim, anyone could bring a case before an employment tribunal, administered at taxpayers’ expense. That presented companies with an unwelcome choice: fight the case in court despite the risk of costly legal proceedings, or pay up regardless of the claim’s merits. Abuse of the system was rife. In 2012-13 there were 190,000 claims before employment tribunals.
The paper’s comment continues: “Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled in the union’s favour, finding that the fees impede access to justice. With due respect to the court, that is wrong. If the old routine of abuse and copious claims returns, that will be bad for employers, bad for their bottom lines and thus bad for employees too. The system did not work perfectly, but it did lead to a 79% reduction in the number of cases brought. The court’s ruling is all the more disappointing because the rules already made provision to remit fees for those who really could not find the money. The government is bound to respect the court’s decision. Parliament, however, should take another look.”