A trade union's legal challenge to the introduction of employment tribunal fees was today dismissed by the High Court.
Giving judgment in the Unison v Lord Chancellor case Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Irwin described the union's argument as 'premature' and said that 'the evidence at this stage lacks that robustness necessary to overturn the regime'.
They added: 'We would underline the obvious: there is no rule that forbids the introduction of a fee regime.'
Law Society president Nicholas Fluck said: 'The court’s judgment does not change the fact that when the government introduced fees for taking claims to employment tribunals, it introduced a further barrier for those who need to access justice adding to the impact of legal aid cuts in other areas of the court and tribunal system.
'There is little objective evidence to support the assertion that the tribunal service is being swamped by weak or groundless claims. Many ordinary people who have lost their job unfairly will be deterred by these fees.'
Unison said it intends to take the case to the Court of Appeal to consider its arguments further, in particular its claims that the fees will have a disproportionate impact on women.
Employment tribunal fees were introduced in July and the judicial review hearing was brought to the High Court in October by Unison.
Fees start at around £160 to issue a claim, rising to £250 depending on the type of claim, with further hearing fees of between £230 and £950.
Dave Prentis (pictured), general secretary of Unison, said the decision was 'very disappointing’.
'We provided clear evidence that since the fees were introduced, the number of employment tribunal cases has collapsed. It is doubly disappointing therefore that it was decided that our case had been taken too early,’ he said.
He added: 'The bottom line is that the government should not put a price on justice. We strongly believe that these fees are unfair and should be dropped, which is what we will argue in the Court of Appeal.'
The government defended the introduction of fees. Justice minister Shailesh Vara said: 'We are pleased that the court has dismissed this application on all of the grounds raised. It is not fair on the taxpayer to foot the entire £74m bill for people to escalate workplace disputes to a tribunal. We want people, where they can afford to do so, to make a contribution.
'It is in everyone's interest to avoid drawn out disputes which emotionally damage workers and financially damage businesses. That's why we are also encouraging quicker, simpler and cheaper alternatives.'