PCS to examine possible civil service claims as Supreme Court rules employment tribunal fees unlawful

Written by John Ashmore and Richard Johnstone on 26 July 2017 in News

Judges say controversial fees “prevent access to justice”, meaning government faces repayment bill

The civil service’s largest trade union has said that it is examining possible claims against the government after the Supreme Court ruled that employment tribunal fees introduced by the government in 2013 were illegal.

In a decision today, the UK's highest court unanimously agreed that the fees, introduced by then Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling in 2013, were unlawful because they “prevent access to justice”.

The court had heard how there had been a massive drop in the number of tribunal cases since the fees were introduced.


Today’s decision means from now on, claimants will not have to pay to bring a case against their employer.

Unions estimated that the Ministry of Justice now faces having to repay some £27m in fees levied in the last four years.

Dave Prentis, the general secretary of the Unison union that brought the case, said the ruling showed the government “is not above the law”.

"When ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old, and showing little concern for employees seeking justice following illegal treatment at work,” he said.

“The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too.”

Responding to the judgment, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said it was a major victory for trade unions.

“We will be taking immediate legal advice about seeking redress for our members who were affected by this,” he said.

In its judgment, the court said the fees were not lawful because they had clearly prevented people from using the tribunals system.

The judges said there had been a “dramatic and persistent fall” in the number of employment tribunal claims since the introduction of fees.

They also said the fees could not be argued to be “affordable” if families on modest incomes were forced to “forgo an acceptable standard of living” to pay them.

"Even where fees are affordable, they prevent access to justice where they render it futile or irrational to bring a claim, for example where in claims for modest or no financial awards no sensible claimant will bring a claim unless he can be virtually certain he will succeed,” the judgement read.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, the statutory body in charge of enforcing equalities legislation, said the ruling was a “damning verdict” on the government’s policy.

“It is a licence to discriminate for employers and must be scrapped,” said EHRC chair David Isaac.

"The law only works if people know that it is a fair and just system and the biggest and strongest will not always win.”

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John Ashmore and Richard Johnstone
About the author

John Ashmore is chief reporter for PoliticsHome.com, where a version of this story first appeared.

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd


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