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Supreme Court Ruling Improves Access to Justice for Discrimination Victims


Women who have suffered pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work will hopefully see greater access to justice now that the UK’s Supreme Court has ruled that the current rules on employment tribunal fees are unlawful and discriminatory.

Employment Tribunal Fees

Employment tribunal fees were introduced in July 2013. They started at around £160 for a type A claim (for example wage claims, breach of contract), and £250 for a type B claim (unfair dismissal, race and sex discrimination). There was also a further hearing fee of £230 for Type A and £950 for Type B claims. Appeals at the employment appeal tribunal attracted an additional £400 lodging and £1,200 hearing fee.

Fall in Discrimination Claims

Unsurprisingly, the introduction of fees led to a significant drop in the number of cases being bought to tribunal.
Figures from the Equality and Human Rights Commission show that discrimination cases on the grounds of sex, disability and race, as well as equal pay claims, all fell by around 50% in 2016 to 2017 compared to the last year before fees. Pregnancy and maternity discrimination claims also fell by 45%.
However, despite this drop in claims, the Government’s employment tribunal fees review published in January revealed that it still collected £27m in fees from 2012-16. It is thought that the Government will now have to refund this money.
A legal challenge to the introduction of employment tribunal fees was brought by trade union UNISON in October 2013. The case progressed all the way to the Supreme Court, where the union has been victorious.
“The Supreme Court correctly criticised the Government’s failure when it set the fees to consider the public benefits flowing from the enforcement of legal rights enacted by Parliament,” commented UNISON assistant general secretary Bronwyn McKenna.
“The effective enforcement of these rights is fundamental to Parliamentary democracy and integral to the development of UK law,” she added. “UNISON’s case has helped clarify the law and gives certainty to citizens and businesses in their everyday lives.”

Reaction to the Ruling

Following the Supreme Court ruling, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has called for the current policy to be scrapped and for the Government to think again.
"The right to justice must be based on the merit of your case not your ability to pay,” said Chair of the Commission, David Isaac. “Thousands may have been denied of this right and priced out of getting justice. The judgment of the Supreme Court is a damning verdict on the current regime. It is a licence to discriminate for employers and must be scrapped. The law only works if people know that it is a fair and just system and the biggest and strongest will not always win."
“Women face a double penalty with high fees and short time scales to bring maternity discrimination cases,” he added. “The time limit should be extended to six months rather than new mothers having the added pressure of having to rush to make a claim.”

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If you have been the victim of pregnancy or maternity discrimination at work, or any other form of discrimination, then contact our specialist employment lawyers today.


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