The Supreme Court has allowed Unison to appeal the Court of Appeal’s recent ruling on Employment Tribunal fees.
The announcement, made on the 26th February, relates to Unison’s third challenge of the tribunal fees system. The Court of Appeal rejected this challenge last September.
Tribunal fees have been controversial since their introduction by the Coalition Government in July 2013. The fees system charges individuals for bringing a claim to a tribunal and then again if their claim is heard. There is then a further charge for anyone that wants to appeal the decision.
The introduction of the fees coincided with a sharp decline in the number of cases going to the Employment Tribunal. According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the number of claims fell by 70% from the start of the 2013/14 financial year to the third quarter of 2014/15.
Unison has been unsuccessful in two previous attempts to have tribunal fees ruled unlawful.
The union’s arguments state that the fees have made it “virtually impossible or excessively difficult” for some people to bring a claim against their employer. They claim that this means the law breaches the EU principle of effectiveness.
Unison has also argued that the fees indirectly discriminate against some groups. Citing an example, the union said that the claimants who pay the highest fees are disproportionately female.
Lord Justice Underhill acknowledged that the fall in cases was “troubling” when ruling on the case at the Court of Appeal last year.
With the Scottish Courts moving to scrap Employment Tribunal fees altogether (at the risk of attracting a surfeit of cases from England and Wales) this could signal the beginning of the end for the fees system. However, it will be a long time before we hear the outcome of Unison’s appeal and an even longer time before they could be gone for good.
Employers across the country will be watching to see if Unison are successful at the third time of asking.