Adviceline: employment tribunal hearings

Ian Taylor welcomes a ruling that ends fees for employment tribunal hearings.

This time last year, I warned that the introduction of fees of up to £1,200 to lodge employment tribunal claims was having a hugely detrimental impact on access to justice in England, Scotland and Wales. See here. 
In my article in Frontline, I expressed the hope that a long-awaited report into the impact of the introduction of fees in 2013, commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, would agree that a drop of almost 80 per cent in the number of claims was unacceptable. I also said that the decision to charge fees should be re-examined as a matter of urgency. 
In the end, however, it was the Supreme Court, rather than the government, that ruled in July on the unlawfulness of the introduction of fees. The court quashed them – not only with immediate effect, but also retrospectively. This means that anyone who has paid a fee to lodge a claim since their introduction will now receive compensation. 
This was a most welcome decision and a vindication of the efforts put in by the Unison legal team, which doggedly pursued the case to the highest court in the land. 
Many questions remain, however. What happens to all those claims not made during the period that fees were charged, due to people being unable to afford them? Will those claims now be allowed? Equally importantly, will the government commit more resources and staff so the tribunals service can be managed properly? A surge in new claims is inevitable and it would be unacceptable if bottlenecks were allowed to build up. This would, indeed, be equally detrimental to those seeking to access justice in the future as was the charging of fees. 
We will have to wait and see whether the government will accept the court’s decision and move on. Or will ministers seek to reintroduce fees or obstruct access to justice in a different way? Perhaps by making employers pay? 
All these questions and more remain to be answered over the coming months, but, in the meantime, rogue employers can no longer get away with bad employment practices as they know staff once again have free access to justice. 
  • Ian Taylor is the CSP’s national legal officer
Ian Taylor CSP national legal officer

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