In July 2013, the government introduced fees for applicants bringing claims in the Employment Tribunals. Since then, SNS Solicitors in Maidstone have been advising clients who may have claims against their employers that, although they have a good case, the fee for bringing a claim will be either £390 or £1200, depending upon the type of claim they might have.
When you have just been dismissed, often unfairly, and have no obvious means of paying your mortgage, buying food and clothing your children, £1,200 to bring a claim in the Tribunal is often impossible to find, despite the merits of doing so being in your favour.
On Wednesday of this week, 26 July 2017, the Supreme Court gave a ruling in a case brought by a member of the union, UNISON. All seven judges unanimously decided that these fees charged by the government for making a claim must be scrapped and that the fees that have been paid must be returned.
The cost to the country is estimated to be around £30 million, but the real cost will be in the fact that since 2013, the number of claims made to the Tribunal had dropped by 80% and the Tribunals have adjusted its own costs and services accordingly. This will also provide a windfall for employers who may have been ordered to pay the costs of those applicants who have successfully brought claims against them.
Whilst the courts must enforce the laws passed by parliament, the Supreme Court decided that there is a constitutional right of all individuals to have access to the courts so that these laws can be enforced or challenged. Not even parliament can prevent that right.
Also, Lady Hale, one of the Supreme Court Judges, noted that the fee structure might be indirectly discriminatory against women who may have claims and are even less likely to be able to afford to bring them then men in the same position.
Potentially this might also affect the cost of bringing other claims in other courts if those fees are so high that they may be deemed to prevent access to justice. In recent years the fees for bringing civil claims has sky rocketed resulting in less claims being made. Although it could be seen as a set-back for employers with poor employment practices, the access to justice element of the ruling is such that every business and individual will benefit.
The decision might be seen as a set back to the government’s plans to raise income from disputes in the Tribunals and Courts. Yet the ruling that all individuals should have access to justice provides an extremely important protection of civil liberties that is likely to have a profound impact on court costs moving forward. The case R (on application of UNISON) v Lord Chancellor  UKSC 51 appears likely to be a heavily relied upon case wherever costs are an issue in any litigation.