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The UK Supreme Court has today ruled that the Employment Tribunal fees imposed by the coalition government in 2013 are unlawful. The case, brought by UNISON against the Lord Chancellor is a landmark and stunning legal victory for workers’ rights against a prohibitively high fees regime.

Glasgow employment lawyerThe decision to impose fees was a cynical attempt to price employees out of enforcing their statutory employment rights. Under the regime, recently dismissed employees would need to find £1,200 to fund their claims, without any guarantee of recouping the outlay, even in the event that the claims were successful. The judgment of the UK’s highest court held that the level the fees were set at were “unlawful under both domestic and ET law because it has the effect of preventing access to justice”.

Initial empirical research showed quite starkly that the claims most likely to be deterred by the fees were discrimination cases; in particular, sex and maternity discrimination. The disproportionate impact of the fees on women formed a central part of UNISON’s case against the government.

The judgment marks a significant posthumous defeat for Cameron’s Premiership. Despite employment rights being anathema to the big business-backed Conservative government, their basis (mostly) in European Union law meant that the Coalition’s hands were tied as to how far they could strip back legislative protections. Instead of repealing the rights therefore, the Coalition sought to price individuals out of enforcing these rights.

The judgment in full can be read online at https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2015-0233-judgment.pdf

Blog by Michael Briggs, Glasgow employment lawyer

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