back to article Slapping crap bosses just got cheaper: Blighty's Supreme Court nixes tribunal fees

The Supreme Court has ruled that today's employment tribunal fees are unlawful, opening the floodgates to hacked off employees (and ex-employees) across the country. In an application for judicial review brought by trade union Unison, the UK's highest court unanimously found that the Employment Appeal Tribunal Fees Order 2013 …

  1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

    I sometimes wonder if the Judicial system is the only thing stopping this country from becoming a complete cess-pit. They have their critics (justifiably so in many cases) but they are the only ones really capable of standing up for the people any more in any real sense.

    1. sabroni Silver badge

      only if you ignore UNISON

      Let's not forget that this wouldn't have happened if a UNION hadn't brought the case to court, and kept on fighting after the High Court and Court of Appeal found in the governments favour. Shows how far you have to go to find a judge that isn't a tory crony.

      1. ToddRundgrensUtopia

        Re: only if you ignore UNISON

        Or a head of the CPC that isn't a champagne socialist

        1. Mad Mike

          Re: only if you ignore UNISON

          Mmmm.

          The general secretary of UNISON is rather interesting, as he's the epitomy of animal farm. Whilst going on all the time about supporting the masses and all his leftish beliefs, he's actually got his snout in the trough (most union leaders do) and earns a very large amount of money and benefits. He certainly doesn't live his spoken beliefs.

        2. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

          Re: only if you ignore UNISON

          I moved from Poland to UK some 13 years ago. The courts in Poland were politicized since WWII (one of the things Poles have Yalta to thank for) and there was no proper cleanup of judiciary after the fall of the iron curtain. The current new legislation is a very clumsy attempt to make it slightly more obvious and create venue to get rid of politically appointed judges - be replacing them with new politically appointed judges, so not much improvement here. Except for making it painfully obvious how things worked and how they will work.

        3. gandalfcn

          Re: only if you ignore UNISON

          What relevance has the Cumberland Presbyterian Church?

      2. Adrian Midgley 1

        Re: only if you ignore UNISON

        No it doesn't.

        It shows that a case requires a plaintiff.

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Observations of what is going on in Poland at the moment only serve to reinforce the fundamental principle that the justice system has to be kept separate from politicians.

      An argument I heard made by one Polish minister was that the courts could send a politician to prison if they broke the law, but that politicians cannot do the same back. How this is anything other than a good thing in anyone's eyes other than those of this particular politico baffles me.

      Our own government hasn't got much of better record in eroding the separation of legislature and judiciary. This ruling today is amazingly good news for everyone, with the exception of those who seek to abuse the rights of employees with no recourse. No prizes for guessing which colour tie those people tend to wear.

      1. Mad Mike

        @Loyal Commenter

        'No prizes for guessing which colour tie those people tend to wear.'

        I doubt if anybody has any idea what the real numbers are, but I've met supporters of just about all political parties that abuse workers. It isn't (in my experience) limited to a particular set. Also, bear in mind that extreme left and extreme right are as bad as each other and actually abuse the population equally. Stalin wasn't any better than Hitler. Pol Pot wasn't any better than Franco.

        The idea that left(ish) people are nice and right(ish) people are horrible is massively misleading. There's bad on both sides of the political divide.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          The idea that left(ish) people are nice and right(ish) people are horrible is massively misleading. There's bad on both sides of the political divide.

          Absolutely. It's the kind of specious crap going around that is undermining democracy.

      2. Marshalltown

        Politicians and judges

        The fiasco here in the US with Trump, Sessions and the other crony crowd should also be regarded as what happens when the separation is not maintained as carefully as it should be.

    3. b0llchit

      Judicial independence

      The Judicial system works as long as a) it is independent and b) the government adheres to the outcome of a judicial process.

      We see strong tendencies that both a and b are being undermined. Not only in the UK, but Hungary and Poland are some strong examples. You may draw your own conclusions where it is heading...

      1. Mad Mike

        Re: Judicial independence

        @b0llchit

        "The Judicial system works as long as a) it is independent and b) the government adheres to the outcome of a judicial process.

        We see strong tendencies that both a and b are being undermined. Not only in the UK, but Hungary and Poland are some strong examples. You may draw your own conclusions where it is heading..."

        There's a third requirement as well......someone to bring a case. After all, people can flout the law all they like and the judicial system will do nothing about it until a case comes before the court. Problem is, when politicians (or bodies controlled by them) are the people who should bring the case. Take the current VW dieselgate scandal. Whilst some action has been happening, anyone been brought before the courts yet in any meaningful way? It's the regulators and politicians that should be forcing the cases, but there seems to be a lack of interest, hence the law becomes an ass.

        1. Marshalltown

          Re: Judicial independence

          Ideally, the courts *can't* do anything about abuses unless they are brought to the attention of the court by either law enforcement or the public (well some other agencies too, I suppose). The lack of action is not a failure, but a maintenance of separation. Laws are ham-handed and tend to be inherently unjust at times. Theoretically, some civil problems can be better handled on a person-to-person or small numbers of persons to small numbers of persons. Hopefully without mortal combat. Only if the offense is irremediable in fashion, and can't be dealt with common-sensically by those involved should the courts actually become involved. Once they are, they are bound by the letter rather than the spirit of the law, and that "letter" is only as good as the oaf who wrote it and the other oafs who edited it, before a majority of oafs passed it into law.

      2. gandalfcn

        Re: Judicial independence

        You forgot to mention Don the Fart and the good old USofA

    4. gandalfcn

      I agree, but the Brexir Brigade don't. Remember they are traitors and against the interests of the working classes.

      I wonder what the Tory media (Fail, Excess et al) have to say now?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mockery aside the judgement makes a beautiful defence of justice for justice's sake, rather than for remediation of harm or for punishment. Paragraphs 64-74 of the judgement are an almighty slapdown of the government's approach to the courts.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      If Grayling et al aren't cringing in embarrassment when they read it, they are not fit for public office.

      I love the needle-sharp understatement inherent in the sentence, "The importance of the rule of law is not always understood."

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        "If Grayling et al aren't cringing in embarrassment when they read it, they are not fit for public office."

        You could probably lose the 'if' from the beginning of that sentence, and it would still be perfectly valid.

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          You could probably lose the 'if' from the beginning of that sentence, and it would still be perfectly valid.

          No, no, no! I could not disagree with you more. I can't believe you put forward such an untenable proposition. I truly cannot!

          The sentence would not be valid unless you also changed the comma to a semi-colon.

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        If Grayling et al aren't cringing in embarrassment when they read it, they are not fit for public office.

        They are career politicians, and so, by definition, they are not fit or suitable for public office..

    2. Falanx

      You're right, good gosh, they took the steel chair to them.

  3. Zippy's Sausage Factory

    Why do I have a sinking feeling

    I doubt the government will accept this, but try and rush through a bill not only enforcing the change but also taking back the fees again from the people who have already paid. And probably adding interest if they've already paid them back.

    Cynical, moi? You betcha...

    1. sebt
      Unhappy

      Re: Why do I have a sinking feeling

      I wouldn't be surprised if you turn out to be right. After all, our current pretend-PM is someone with a track record of seeing the justice system as just a speedbump on the road to Hell she's driving us down.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Why do I have a sinking feeling

        "seeing the justice system as just a speedbump " and yet crashing off the road every time she hits one. Managed to keep the Hooked one in the country for years by not getting the date right on forms. It would be laughable but this is probably what brixit is really about - they've spent their lives copying others at school while keeping an arm wrapped over their copying and hate to be exposed for the incompetent idiots they are. This can only be achieved by removing all oversight.

        Be warned, be very warned.

  4. Rich 11 Silver badge

    Setting a good example

    explaining the function of the justice system, Janet and John style, presumably for the benefit of the government

    Someone across the pond should have done this for Donald Trump at the start of his candidacy, to avoid the need for a fuller explanation during his presidency.

    "See Don run. Run, Don, run!"

    1. Big John Silver badge

      Re: Setting a good example

      I'm sure Don was fully aware that the Democrats had plans to destroy him with faked up charges should he win. Hey, it's a given. They're leftists.

      1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

        Re: Setting a good example

        @ Big John, and yet he did win, and so far there are no faked-up charges, unless you think what is being uncovered, and admitted to, by (for instance) Trump Jr and Mr Kushner, is faked up.

        1. Mad Mike

          Re: Setting a good example

          @Hollerithevo

          Can nobody see the irony in the US position? Trump might have been helped into office by the Russians......it's an absolute disgrace, get him out. The 'help' apears to be providing copies of some documents and emails etc. At the same time, the US has a long and glorious history of helping people into power into other countries and indeed keeping them there. Using such methods as supplying information, assassination, military intervention etc.etc.

          It also brings in the very difficult question of what constitutes help. After all, if Russia helped expose dubious goings on and breaches of the law etc., shouldn't they be applauded? After all, isn't transparancy what we all want?

          1. Swarthy Silver badge
            Trollface

            Re: Setting a good example

            Hey, when we do it, it is "preserving democracy" and "ensuring peace/prosperity (though be sure to never mention for whom)" When "They" do it, it is undermining democracy an an attack on our sovereignty.

            As for the info disclosed tarnishing the Dems, we should just ban both the Republicans (for collusion) and the Democrats (for all the dirty crap they pulled that got them smeared) from running in any federal election for the next 4-8 years.

          2. Big John Silver badge
            Meh

            Re: Setting a good example

            MM sez: "Trump might have been helped into office by the Russians......it's an absolute disgrace, get him out."

            You have condemned President Trump for what you say he MIGHT have done? In other words, you have no proof? Really?

            Screw that.

      2. gandalfcn

        Re: Setting a good example

        Big John can you please explain why an innocent person would wan't to pardon himself and jis associated? An innocent person would have no need to do that. Or, for your obviously non existent brain only a liar and guilt ridden con man would contemplate pardoning guilty people and himself.

        1. Big John Silver badge

          Re: Setting a good example

          There has been and will be no pardon, just like there is no evidence. Well, we do know for a fact that Obama used Don Jr's useless meeting with that Russian lawyer (that Democrats arranged) as a pretext to use the FBI to spy on Trump, something Nixon could only have dreamed of. There is the real crime.

          All the charges of collusion (not even a crime, btw) have zero proof. That makes sense since the whole thing was concocted by Democrats and propped up by their butt-boys in the corporate media.

          BTW, I've heard that "If you're innocent you have nothing to fear" line before. Usually spoken by people who want to remove people's basic rights. Again, screw that.

    2. Marshalltown

      Re: Setting a good example

      DT lacks the psychological profile necessary to internalize such things. He wants loyalty for example but doesn't offer it. The sole objection he could have to Session's recusal would have to be that he expected Sessions to run interference for him with the investigations. Why would he need that? The behaviour makes him look like a Nixon.

  5. Natalie Gritpants
    Boffin

    "graph shows how much access to justice was damaged"

    Actually, it shows how much access to the courts was reduced, a different thing. I'd like to see the numbers of successful cases on the same graph. I expect there has been a reduction but without numbers, it's impossible to tell how big an effect the fees had.

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: "graph shows how much access to justice was damaged"

      As in it's a court of law not a court of justice?

      (Shameless Billy Bragg reference)

    2. Big John Silver badge

      Re: "graph shows how much access to justice was damaged"

      > "...it's impossible to tell how big an effect the fees had."

      By design.

    3. frank 3

      Re: "graph shows how much access to justice was damaged"

      That was covered on R4 today programme this AM.

      Sucessful prosecutions *should* have risen as the vexatious ones were stripped out.

      The sucess rate was virtually unchanged, suggesting that access to enough money to pay fees was the differentiator, not strength of case

      1. Big John Silver badge

        Re: "graph shows how much access to justice was damaged"

        > "Successful prosecutions *should* have risen as the vexatious ones were stripped out."

        How so? Doesn't this assumption rest on which type of prosecution (clean vs vexatious) are typically more successful?

        What did R4 Today say about it, if anything? Did they just posit that vexatious litigation fails more than the clean kind?

        1. Richocet

          Re: "graph shows how much access to justice was damaged"

          Vexatious litigation is automatically unsuccessful once the court deems it to be vexatious. The lawyer gets disbarred and the claimant loses access to the courts, making it impossible to win.

          Frivalous lawsuits are the precursors to vexatious ones. Is that what you meant?

          1. Big John Silver badge

            Re: "graph shows how much access to justice was damaged"

            Yes I meant that. Don't know the British legal lingo.

        2. sabroni Silver badge

          Re: How so?

          When the charges were originally introduced the argument was that people were bringing cases not because they'd been wronged but because it was free. If that argument was right then the percentage of successful cases should have gone up when it stopped being free as no one would spend £1300 unless they had a good case. The percentage didn't go up, but the number of cases did go down. This shows that the initial premise was wrong.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe the high upfront fees was a cushy way to protect some people... now that the protection is removed, things may tend to get a bit too hot for comfort...

  7. Mad Mike

    Some change was necessary

    In all this, there is some truth from both sides. Whether the fees were set at the right level or not is another matter, but there is no doubt that companies were being taken to tribunal or settling out of court very regularly when they actually hadn't done anything wrong. The legal bills alone made it worth settling if the amount could be kept smallish (from a companies point of view, large to the employee).

    Of course, there were also a huge number of cases where the employee was absolutely right to take the employer to tribunal. Simple right and wrong doesn't exist in this case. There was undoubtedly a need to try and stop the spurious or stupid cases unnecessarily weighing down companies and costing them lots of money. On the other hand, it is absolutely necessary to ensure those that have a good and genuine case can seek appropriate justice through a tribunal.

    How exactly you get that balance right, I'm not entirely sure and I'm not defending the fees at all. But, it is a balancing act rather than companies always bad, employees always good.

    The biggest issue with the tribunal system is employees still working for a company being scared to take their employer to court. Also, the time it takes, which can be a nightmare if the employers reaction is simply to walk you out the door. How do you survive until the judgement comes?

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: Some change was necessary

      I think the only way it can be completely fair is if there's a screening process first - get your case past a judge before you're even allowed to raise the prospect of a court case with the potential defendant.

      However that would be bloody expensive.

      Maybe getting the case past a non-judge judge. If it fails you have to pay to go further, if not it's free?

      1. Mad Mike

        Re: Some change was necessary

        @disgustedoftunbridgewells.

        This is the problem. How do you weed out the bad cases without affecting the good. Maybe a better way would have been to charge everyone a smaller fee to go before someone who makes that judgement independantly? You have to pay the fee to continue and failure to, or failure to make your case to a reasonable level, also stops you.

      2. JohnMurray

        Re: Some change was necessary

        All cases have to go through mediation before they get anywhere near a tribunal...

    2. JohnMurray

      Re: Some change was necessary

      To be truthful...most employers have no idea what employment laws are, or even care.

      Their behaviour towards employees is still based upon slave and master..

      1. sabroni Silver badge

        Re: Their behaviour towards employees is still based upon slave and master..

        Bad day at the office?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This sort of thing, well, it just leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth for me. It hacks of the nasty party, making sure that only the wealthy have even the chance of justice. This may or may not actually be the case : but the perception is unpleasant. I also didn't like the legal aid cuts, which did I will confess, give me mixed feelings. Poor people having access to the courts vs. lawyers filling their pockets with tax payer's money.

    1. Mad Mike

      @nick_rampart

      The whole issue here is the validity of the case being brought. Yes, people should have the same access to the courts regardless of wealth etc. However, there have been plenty of cases where unpleasant people (not necessarily with money) have used the courts to pursue and harass someone who has done no wrong. Normally, it ends up with the target taking a big financial hit as well. All sorts of spurious and malicious claims. Many of these have been done with public funds (legal aid) as well. I've personally known a lot of people who have had to defend themselves with their own money, whilst their spouse (or ex-spouse) has got legal aid and is relatively unaffected.

      Sadly, access to courts can never be independent of money, because apart from anything else, it affects the quality of the representation you get. If you put a legal aid barrister against a £10k a day barrister, there's an immediate issue of quality. Obviously, if you've got an easy, solid case, you might be OK. But, anything that needs arguing etc., you could well be at a distinct disadvantage.

      As with a lot of things, I feel radical change is necessary to make it as fair as possible, but whilst also removing the abusers. Can't say I know how to do it, but the system at the moment is generally not fit for purpose.

  9. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Flame

    And for those that have suffered as a result ?

    How about people who had a valid case, but were unable to bring it ?

    Presumably they can take whistling lessons from BoJo ?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I can see both sides of the argument, shyster lawyers miking the system for inflated fees on behalf of vexatious litigants and those genuinely wronged who can't afford justice. The latter has been solved by this ruling, we now need to tackle the former.

    There are those doing a roaring trade in fake whiplash claims and food poisoning scams who could be eyeing this new opportunity, they shove up costs and breed distrust for the majority of people out there who are honest.

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Or vexatious litigants alone

      Vexatious litigants go into it for the hope of a big cash award or for vengeance etc. Lawyers are not necessary shysters for representing them.

      1. Richocet

        Re: Or vexatious litigants alone

        Vexatious litigants try to damage their target financially, waste their time, and cause them stress via the legal system when their case is frivolous. These people have to have decent financial resources and a black heart to be in a position to try it.

        Unfortunately this wastes even more money and time for the courts (funded by taxpayers).

        It would be amazing if someone came up with a solution that made it unquestionably not worth it to use the courts to harass others, while keeping the costs of accessing the legal system low.

        Another challenge to tackle is how to get equal outcomes for people regardless of how much money they throw at lawyers. You know what I mean - in the US poor people go to jail for trivial things then lose their right to vote plus become unemployable, while rich people get acquitted of serious things.

  11. sebt
    Go

    Great and correct decision

    Leaving only the question: how is this going to be spun as "ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE"?

    ENEMIES OF THE SHAREHOLDERS, perhaps?

    1. Clockworkseer

      Re: Great and correct decision

      Thats certainly how certain "newspapers" were spinning it. "Oh my god, bosses can now be flooded with hundreds of spurious claims. Won;t somebody think of the elite!"

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    does this mean us small businesses without money for lawyers can pursue employees who - for example - walk out without statutory notice? no? didn't think so...

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Well, no, because that's not what employment tribunals are for. You'd be looking at taking out a simple civil case for breach of contract.

  13. Jim 59

    The Supreme Court is part of the same legal profession that will, once you have filed your complaint and taken your employer to a tribunal, charge you £750 an hour or more for barrister representation.

    In 2006 I took an employer to tribunal over unfair dismissal. It was all going well until it got to the part where hiring a barister was required (there is no choice; it is a requirement). Even for 1 day, the price was over £1500. Fortunately for me, the employer settled on terms before it came to court.

    (Tip: tick that "family legal cover" box on your house insurance.)

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "charge you £750 an hour or more for barrister representation.

      Even for 1 day, the price was over £1500."

      At £750 an hour the price per day would be several times £1500.

      1. hmv

        Tribunals are rarely held in the Supreme Court thus 750 an hour and 1500 a day are not incompatible.

      2. Jim 59

        "At £750 an hour the price per day would be several times £1500."

        It would indeed. Itemised, this was the barristers bill for just a couple of hours iirc.

        I look forward to professional engineers like myself obtaining a similar closed shop arrangement, so that only people with a BEng are allowed to touch or operate computers, and we can charge similar amounts.

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          so that only people with a BEng are allowed to touch or operate computers

          As the holder of a mere HND in computing, I would be happy to let BEng's touch a computer just as long as I was allowed to design and build a major road bridge.

          Yeah, I've seen what you know-it-alls do to computer systems. FFS.

    2. JohnMurray

      Doesn't cost that much if you're in a union.

      Just the union dues....

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Doesn't cost that much if you're in a union.

        Just the union dues....

        Exactly. This is the best way to spread out the cost of insurance, just like paying taxes to support the NHS with access for everyone is better than buying private healthcare insurance. And if your union also does a deal with a building society to drop 0.25% off a mortgage (OK, maybe not as likely now as it was ten years ago), well, it's almost like the entire arrangement pays for itself. Yet some people still revile unions and everything they stand for...

  14. FozzyBear Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Well

    Can't we just publicly execute the power elite.

    Sure it caused a bit of a kerfuffle in France a while ago. But it certainly sent the message don’t f$ck with the people.

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Well

      That's a bit extreme, perhaps instead there should be a charge for Chris Greyling, every time he puts forward a policy?

      This might prevent vexatious legislation, like reducing Legal Aid (poor people don't need lawyers!), introducing court charges (it's cheaper to plead guilty!), prison benchmarking (why spend money on prisons?), banning prisoners from having books (why would anyone want them to improve their minds eh?).

      Still, his tenure as Justice Secretary did have the side effect of making Gove look better by comparison when he took over, which is pretty bloody miraculous.

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