High Court Upholds Employment Tribunal Fees

The High Court has ruled that fees for the use of Employment Tribunals (ETs) and the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) are lawful.

The fees were first introduced by the Government in July 2013. Since then, the number of cases coming before ETs and the EAT has declined significantly. Only those on very low incomes are exempted, or partially exempted, from the charges.

The trade union Unison challenged the lawfulness of the charges, claiming that they would make it ‘virtually impossible, or excessively difficult’ for many people of modest means to exercise their right to bring an ET claim. The High Court originally dismissed the challenge in February 2014 on the grounds that, at the time, there was insufficient evidence to support Unison’s arguments.

Since then, statistics published by the Ministry of Justice have shown a dramatic fall in the number of ET claims received year-on-year, and Unsion was granted permission to appeal against the High Court’s decision.

However, the High Court has now dismissed Unison’s case. The Court noted that, despite the huge impact of the charges on the number of cases coming before ETs and the EAT, there was little evidence of ‘actual cases’ in which people had been denied access to justice as an effective way of redressing wrongs.

The Government’s objective in introducing charges was to pass on about a third of the annual cost of running ETs and the EAT to litigants who could afford to pay fees. They were also designed to discourage unmeritorious claims, thereby making the system faster and more efficient, and to encourage other means of dispute resolution instead of treating litigation as ‘a first resort’. The Court found that those aims were ‘perfectly proper’ and justified any ‘very small’ discriminatory impact that the introduction of fees might have.

The Court has given permission to appeal against its decision.

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