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Lawyers welcome High Court tribunal fees ruling

Employment lawyers have welcomed a High Court decision to support recently-introduced employment tribunal and employment appeal tribunal fees.

Trade union Unison challenged the Government’s decision to introduce the fees in court, arguing they would bar workers treated unfairly by employers from accessing justice.

Unison argued that since the fees were introduced, the number of employment cases had fallen sharply. It presented research suggesting Equality Act discrimination claims had fallen by 88% between September 2012 and September 2013. 

In the same period, Unision suggested sex discrimination claims had fallen by 86% and unfair dismissal claims by 81%.

Despite these findings, the High Court ruled it was too soon to judge if the fees would have a negative impact following their introduction in July 2013. 

It said it expected the Government to review and amend the scheme in the future if it found the fees to have a negative impact on workers.

Welcome news for employers

Law firm Eversheds partner Geoffrey Mead said employers would back the result. “Few employers will be sorry that the fees regime will remain, for the time being at least, as the reality for them is fewer employment tribunal claims,” he said.

“It is becoming clear that, by introducing fees, the Government has made significant inroads into one of the perceived weaknesses of the system, namely that it allowed weak and unmeritorious claims to proceed with impunity.

“Although preventing such claims was not one of the Government’s stated aims in introducing fees, the regime will continue to be welcomed by most employers if the number of claims they perceive as weak and unmeritorious is reduced.” 

Law firm Irwin Mitchell head of employment Tom Flanagan agreed with Mead. “This is good news for employers,” he said.

“Until the introduction of employment tribunal fees in July 2013, individuals had nothing to lose by issuing claims, leaving employers with the cost and inconvenience of defending sometimes unmeritorious claims.

“However, even at this early stage, evidence suggests that claim volumes have reduced as a result of the fees regime (as well the impact of other considerations such as the increase to two years of the qualification period for bringing a claim) as claimants now have to balance the cost of the fees against the likelihood of succeeding.”

Court of Appeal

Following the verdict, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said the organisation would take the case to the Court of Appeal.

“We provided clear evidence that since the fees were introduced, the number of employment tribunal cases has collapsed,” he said.

“It is doubly disappointing therefore that it was decided that our case had been taken too early. Apart from the fact that judicial review cases have to be taken within a three-month period, extracting the information we provided to the court required detailed freedom of information requests, because statistics were not readily available in the public domain.

“These statistics showed a very large drop in tribunal claims, which the High Court described as ‘dramatic’.

“The sad fact is that workers are being treated unfairly now,” he continued. “They should not be made to wait in the vain hope that the Government will act on the falling number of cases and scrap the fees altogether.”

Workers who win their claims in employment tribunal and employment appeals tribunals are entitled to have fees reimbursed by their employers.