The decision of the supreme court that the introduction of fees for employment tribunals was unlawful is majestically argued in terms of access to justice. It is in stark contrast to the miserable and myopic decision of the court of appeal, which resorted to the logic of the poor law in holding that the reason for the dramatic drop in employment tribunal applications was because claimants, being the undeserving poor, chose to spend their money on non-essential items, such as clothes and alcohol.
I spent over a decade as a volunteer lawyer for a charity representing claimants at employment tribunals. Even before fees were introduced, the odds were stacked against claimants. There was no legal aid and the burden of proving discrimination, whistleblowing or unfair dismissal meant that only around 20% of cases were won by claimants.
Employment tribunals were meant to ensure that ordinary workers could obtain redress without paying lawyers. Fees which were higher than those in the high court were introduced for the sole reason of deterring applicants. Contrary to your editorial, it wasn’t Chris Grayling so much as the Liberal Democrat ministers – Vince Cable, Jo Swinson and Ed Davey – who were responsible for their introduction. The Lib Dems could have stopped the introduction of employment tribunal fees but, as with the bedroom tax, benefit cuts and the NHS privatisation, they deferred to the Tories.