This morning, tribunal fees have been ruled as unlawful and the Government now face paying fines of up to 32m to claimants.
In 2013, to reduce weak cases, the Government implemented fees of up to £1,200 to be paid by the claimant in the first instance, before a case could proceed in front of the Employment Tribunal. As well as this, further fees if the case went ahead and an additional charge if the claimant wished to appeal the decision.
It has been argued by Unison that such fees restricted workers from access to justice and that it was “virtually impossible or excessively difficult” for individuals to exercise their employment rights.
On July 26th, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Government has acted unlawful in their approach and unconstitutionally on introducing such fees. Seven of the Supreme Court Judges have identified that due to the effect of these fees, the Employment Tribunal has seen a drastic decline in the number of claims heard.
Dave Prentis, who is the General Secretary of Unison was reported to state: “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: “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.
“We’ll never know how many people missed out because they couldn’t afford the expense of fees.”
Access to Justice
Previously, the Government made a voluntary commitment to repay all fees if it was established they had acted unlawfully.
Dominic Raab, Justice Minister said: “The Government would cease taking fees for employment tribunals ‘immediately’ and begin the process of reimbursing claimants, dating back to 2013.
He said: “We respect the judgement and we are going to take it fully on board and we are going to comply with it.”
“The tricky, the difficult, the fluid balancing act that we’ve got is we want to make sure there’s proper access to justice, we want to make sure frivolous or spurious claims don’t clog up the tribunal and at the same time we’ve got to make sure we’ve got the right way to fund it.”
France O’Grady of the Trade Union Congress stated: “It was a “massive win” for workers. Too many low-paid workers couldn’t afford to uphold their rights at work, even when they’ve faced harassment or have been sacked unfairly.”
What should employers be considering next?
It is important to note, it is unlikely that the fee regime will be entirely abolished (at least not straight away). It has been submitted that the Government will consider a consultation paper with the hope of implementing a new regime.
The Employment Tribunal service now has a lot of work ahead – consideration on rewriting tribunal rules will now need to be implemented with immediate effect. As well as, a reprogramming of the online claim form system.
There are many questions that remain unanswered – what will happen to employees who were put off bringing a claim in front of the Employment Tribunal due to financial reasons? Or following today’s decision, will it be reasonable to extend the duration in which an employee can bring a claim?
Employment Law Services (ELS) LTD will ensure you are well informed of updates as they come in. In the meantime, employers concerned with about any of the issues raised in this article can also take advantage of our Employment Law Services (ELS) free consultation service – call us today to arrange your free consultation – 0800 612 4772.