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Justice denied to victims of bosses' crimes

High Court rules workers hold no right to fight mistreatment unless they have cash to spare

Bad bosses were given a rubber stamp to do their worst yesterday as top judges backed the coalition's decision to impose "punitive" fees on wronged workers who dare to seek justice in court.

General union Unison, which brought the case, vowed to press on after it failed to persuade two judges at the High Court in London to quash what it argued was an "unlawful" Con-Dem order imposing a price on workplace justice for the first time.

Announcing their decision to dismiss Unison's judicial review application, Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Irwin said the "fundamental flaw in these proceedings is that they are premature and that the evidence at this stage lacks that robustness necessary to overturn the regime."

Under changes introduced last July, workers in Britain are charged to bring a claim, again if the claim is heard and a third time if they want to appeal.

Depending on the type of case, it will cost £160 or £250 to lodge a claim, with a further charge of either £230 or £950 if it goes ahead to a hearing. Discrimination and unfair dismissal cases fall into the higher fee category.

Unison said yesterday it intended to take its case to the Court of Appeal.

Union general secretary Dave Prentis said: "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.

"The sad fact is that workers are being treated unfairly now."

According to Unison from September 2012 to September 2013, there was "a fall in all claims of 56 per cent, while sex discrimination claims fell 86 per cent and unfair dismissal claims dropped by 81 per cent."

Institute of Employment Rights director Carolyn Jones described the court's decision as "another nail in the coffin of access to justice."

She said: "Employers are safe in the knowledge that they can act out without restraint. They have been given a rubber stamp to act badly. Unison is doing its best to defend its members' rights."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady also came out in support of the union.

She said: "The decision of the High Court is very disappointing, and it's good to see that Unison plans to appeal.

"It's important that the fight for access to justice for anyone who has been wronged at work continues."

Unison did gain a small victory however. Mr Prentis explained: "We are pleased that pressure from our case did win a significant concession from government so that workers winning their claims are entitled to have the fees reimbursed by their employers."

The government says the aim of introducing fees is to transfer some of the £74 million costs onto court users to save money.

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