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Supreme Court to consider tribunal fees challenge by Unison

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A union fighting against a Government decision to make workers pay to pursue proceedings in employment tribunals has been given the go-ahead to take its action to the UK’s highest court.

The Supreme Court has granted Unison permission to challenge a Court of Appeal ruling which went against it in August last year over the introduction of employment tribunal fees.

The Court of Appeal ruled it could not be inferred that a drop in the number of employment claims was entirely down to potential claimants’ inability to afford fees.

The action was taken following changes introduced in July 2013, in which workers are now charged a fee to bring a claim, a fee if the claim is heard and a further charge if they want to appeal against a decision.

Following their introduction, Unison sought unsuccessfully to have employment tribunal fees ruled unlawful in two High Court challenges.

Among Unison’s arguments were that fees made it “virtually impossible or excessively difficult” for some individuals to exercise their European employment rights.

It further submitted that it indirectly discriminated against women, ethnic minorities and the disabled without any justification. For example, the union said that claimants who are required to pay the highest fees, which include £1,200 for a discrimination claim that goes to a hearing, are disproportionately female.

But the accusations were unanimously rejected by Lord Justice Elias and Mr Justice Foskett. Lord Justice Elias described the fees scheme for a whole variety of claims to employment tribunals as “justified and proportionate”.

He said: “I have no doubt that each of the objectives relied upon in this case is a legitimate one and that the scheme taken over all, particularly having regard to the arrangements designed to relieve the poorest from the obligation to pay, is justified and proportionate to any discriminatory effect. Moreover, the costs are recoverable, in general at least, if the claim succeeds.”

Unison’s evidence showed a 91 per cent drop in sex discrimination claims, and an overall drop in claims of 80 per cent. Statistics from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) published last year showed that employment tribunal claims had fallen by over 60 per cent in the two years since the fees regime was introduced.

The dates for the Supreme Court hearing have not been confirmed.