Posted by Hannah Aziz, in-house solicitor at Litigation Futures Associate Acasta Europe Ltd
Last week, UNISON won what it has described as a landmark court victory against the government.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the government had acted unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced employment tribunal (ET) fees on 29 July 2013. The fees were imposed by the then Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling.
The president of the Law Society, Joe Egan, has commented on the ruling: “This decision is a triumph for access to justice, and a resounding blow against attempts to treat justice as a commodity rather than the right it is.”
The decision came as somewhat of a surprise to the government as it overturns previous judgments in the High Court and the Court of Appeal in 2015.
The introduction of tribunal fees in 2013 saw claims drop significantly. In finding against the government in this matter, the justices recognised the importance of ensuring that access to justice is available to all and that the introduction of the fees had presented an economic barrier to such justice which disproportionately affected lower-paid workers.
Lady Hale also noted the correlation between the potential impact that the introduction of the fees had in indirectly discriminating against women and others with protected characteristics.
In handing down judgment, Lord Reed stated: “ETs are intended to provide a forum for the enforcement of employment rights by employees and workers, including the low paid, those who have recently lost their jobs, and those who are vulnerable to long term unemployment. They are designed to deal with issues which are often of modest financial value, or of no financial value at all, but are nonetheless of social importance”
In recognising the social importance of the abolition of tribunal fees, the court has signalled to the government that access to justice remains the cornerstone of our legal system and that even the government is not immune to this.
Acasta remain committed to ensuring access to justice – through offering after-the-event insurance and funding for commercial disputes – and we welcome the positive steps taken by the courts to recognise the same.