The case, brought by the Unite union as a judicial review, argued that setting fees of up to £1200 for a first hearing, was unfair and denied workers the opportunity to seek justice in employment grievances. They also argued that it went against the intention of the legislation as implemented by Parliament and discriminated against women and other protected groups.
In its decision, the Court, overturning previous victories for the Government in the lower courts, ruled that under both UK and EU law, the introduction of fees was unlawful and unconstitutional. The Lord Chancellor, a government minister, had gone beyond his powers in introducing the fees. The Court found that the fees order was the most common reason why a claim was not submitted to the Tribunal, and argued this breached the guarantee of a remedy before a court set out in EU law. The Court also supported Unite in its submission that the fees discriminated against protected groups and women, thus breaching the Equality Act.
The consequences of the ruling were immediate, as the Government announced they were suspending the imposition of fees and were beginning the process of refunding people who had paid them unlawfully, a process likely to cost around £32 million.
It remains to be seen whether the ruling will reverse the trend of a sharp decline in employment law claims, which have fallen by nearly 75% since the introduction of the fees.
Looking ahead to the next 12 months, the Supreme Court is set to make another key ruling on employment law as it will be hearing the appeal in the Pimlico Plumbers case in the autumn. Regular readers of our newsletter may recall this case from February’s edition, in which the Court of Appeal found that a person who is self-employed under a written agreement could be considered as a worker. For more information, click here to access the original article. A decision in this matter is likely in the first half of 2018.