The Tories took a gavel blow today as employment tribunal fees were ruled “unlawful” at the Supreme Court.

It means the Government must pay back £27 million to people charged since the policy was implemented in 2013 by then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.

And the decision in favour of the challenge by the Unison trade union was made even sweeter by the scorn poured on Grayling and the Government by Lord Justice Reed in his judgement.

The Government argued that the introduction of fees was fair because employment tribunals only benefits those using the service rather society and taxpayers as a whole.

But the Lord Reed said that showed a “lack of understanding” of the rule of law in a comprehensive demolition of that logic.

Barely concealing his contempt, the judge gave the Tories a dummies introduction to the basic concept that underpins democracy:

“It may be helpful to begin by explaining briefly the importance of the rule of law, and the role of access to the courts in maintaining the rule of law. It may also be helpful to explain why the idea that bringing a claim before a court or a tribunal is a purely private activity, and the related idea that such claims provide no broader social benefit, are demonstrably untenable.

“At the heart of the concept of the rule of law is the idea that society is governed by law. Parliament exists primarily in order to make laws for society in this country. Democratic procedures exist primarily in order to ensure that the Parliament which makes those laws includes Members of Parliament who are chosen by the people of this country and are accountable to them.

“Courts exist in order to ensure that the laws made by Parliament, and the common law created by the courts themselves, are applied and enforced. That role includes ensuring that the executive branch of government carries out its functions in accordance with the law.

“In order for the courts to perform that role, people must in principle have unimpeded access to them. Without such access, laws are liable to become a dead letter, the work done by Parliament may be rendered nugatory, and the democratic election of Members of Parliament may become a meaningless charade.

“That is why the courts do not merely provide a public service like any other.  Access to the courts is not, therefore, of value only to the particular individuals involved.”

To complete the Government’s humiliation, Lord Reed explained how tribunal fees breach the Magna Carta – on top of UK and EU law:


  1. Biff McMahon says:

    Well done Unison, firstly for taking up the fight on behalf of all workers, whether union members or not, and secondly for getting the only result that makes sense. In this case the law was not an ass

  2. Great News! Grayling was the only Minister of Justice who does not understand the idea of Rule of Law.

  3. Now, surely the same principle means that the fact that no employee is covered by these rights for the first two years of employment is also not in the interest of democracy or the law.

  4. Peter Silver says:

    One of the marks of any civilised country is the fairness of the legal system it operates, our country laid claim to having the best system of justice in the world, which has been the basis at least for others who have sought to construct fair and workable systems of their own, but this was at a time when the word ‘Justice’ not the word ‘Cheapness’ was its foundation and aspiration. Cheap justice is an oxymoron.
    In order to show any degree of true civilisation, a country has to show that it affords everyone, whether you prejudge the case or not, proper and unhindered access to and impartial treatment from its system of law, any interference by any politician preventing unhindered action must therefore be deemed uncivilised, the politicians therefore who espouse such action must, by inference, be likewise deemed uncivilised.

  5. What about those of us who were unable to take cases to tribunal because of this law? How will we be compensated? I believe a class action suit against the Conservative Party is appropriate.

  6. Craig You could still ask that your case be held by the tribunal as a result of the interpretation of the law being discriminatory. I think that seeking a claim of discrimination would be the way forward.

    My 2p

  7. JBigglesworth says:

    The Tories, particularly the the Brexiter variety, are famously dismissive of “experts”, whether they be economists, doctors, scientists, engineers, diplomats, teachers and, indeed, lawyers.

    So much so, they have repeatedly seen fit to appoint non-lawyers to be the most senior law officer in the land- the Lord Chancellor (part of the Justice brief).

    The law they have fallen foul of isn’t even just some obscure, fine point of law or a novel EU regulation, but a fundamental principle in the fundamental legal document of the English-speaking world- Magna Carta.

    Perhaps this utter humiliation will make them think twice about treating the need to have a lawyer as Lord Chancellor as little more than “needless red tape”.


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