Research evidence presented to the Supreme Court led to a unanimous ruling that employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 for claimants, introduced in 2013, were unlawful.

Impacts

  • Dr Abi Adams' analysis contributed to the unanimous Supreme Court finding in July 2017 that the fee system for employment tribunal claimants was unlawful.
  • Her article on the adverse incentives of the fees, co-written with Dr Jeremias Prassl, was highlighted as a contribution to the Supreme Court verdict in a House of Commons Research briefing note.
  • This successful case has inspired great interest in considering what evidence to draw on when assessing the levels at which fees and costs for services should be set, who should bear those costs and how to evaluate the outcomes of those decisions.
  • Dr Adams has collaborated with the UN's International Labour Organization on using the model to evaluate the impact of similar reforms worldwide, starting in Brazil.

"Dr Adams' arguments were extremely useful for the submissions advanced by the advocates in the case, were cited in the written submissions for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and I think played a significant part in the eventual successful outcome." (Professor Michael Ford QC, Old Square Chambers)

About the research

Dr Abi Adams made a surprising discovery when she began researching zero hours work contracts and other types of atypical employment in 2016. Selecting employment tribunal statistics as a possible measure of emerging labour market categories, she was struck by a sudden and persistent fall in the number and value of employment tribunal claims in late spring 2013.

In March 2013 claimant fees were introduced, where employees who think they have been wronged by their employer – underpaid, dismissed unfairly or subjected to discrimination – had to pay up to £1,200 to go to an employment tribunal. Within months tribunal claims fell by over 70%, from some 190,000 claims in 2012-2013 to around 60,000 in 2014-2015.

Working with legal expert Dr Jeremias Prassl, Dr Adams provided evidence (published in Modern Law Review) that in 35-50% of cases claimants could now expect to lose money, as tribunal costs were so high compared to the expected value of a successful pay out.

Through a novel approach that combined economic theory and statistical analysis with constitutional legal principles, Dr Adams was able to show that the impact analysis underpinning the introduction of fees had not identified the full effects of the legislation.

"Our argument is based not on whether you can afford to bring a claim, but whether the financial disincentive of going to a tribunal is so significant that your access to justice has been denied," she explains. It's an argument that trade union Unison embraced during its third appeal in March 2017 and which influenced the successful verdict in the Supreme Court.