Employment tribunal fees ruled unlawful

On 26th July 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that employment tribunal fees were unlawful. The Government quickly moved to abolish them and commit to refunding fees paid out since their introduction in July 2013, at an estimated cost of £32 million.

The case was brought by the trade union Unison, who had taken their appeal to the Supreme Court, their argument being that the fees breached the EU law principle of effectiveness and was indirectly discriminatory, with which the Supreme Court agreed.

Since the fees were first introduced, there has been a large drop – 79% – in the number of cases brought to employment tribunals. This will certainly be attested to by employment lawyers, who have seen instructions fall, with some specialist firms having to diversify into other practice areas.

The High Court enforcement industry has also seen a comparable drop in the number of instructions for the enforcement of employment tribunal awards via the Fast Track Scheme.

It will be interesting to see the impact of this ruling – an upward trend in claims seems highly likely; but how will the Government respond? As the fee order that brought the charges in has been ruled unlawful, might they look to introduce legislation to address this, assuming they could even get that through Parliament? Will they take the risk?

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