People Are Sharing This UK Supreme Court Judgment And It’s Democratic AF

The United Kingdom Supreme Court today handed down its judgment in the case of R (UNISON) v Lord Chancellor – a case about the charging of Employment Tribunal Fees. The court ruled that the way the government was charging fees for tribunal claims hampered access to justice, and was therefore unlawful. A defeat for the government and a success for UNISON, the union that brought the case.

The Court’s judgment [PDF] is 42 pages long, but lawyers on Twitter have been urging everyone to read the section entitled ‘The constitutional right of access to the courts’. Lord Reed, writing the unanimous verdict, reminds us that access to the courts is “inherent in the rule of law” and that the people, even those of slender means, must be able to access the courts in order to have the laws passed by parliament enforced.

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.

The charging of fees, says Lord Reed, implies that the benefit of a particular Employment Tribunal decision accrues only to the person who brought the claim. He goes on to point out that this is obviously incorrect, and that court decisions in one particular case affect the way the law is interpreted and enforced for everyone.

Lawyers on Twitter are delighted by this part of the judgment.

And in some cases, they’re getting quite emotional.

2 thoughts on “People Are Sharing This UK Supreme Court Judgment And It’s Democratic AF”

  1. It is a step forward surely but in the wake of drastic cutting to legal aid and the right to have representation in court only if you are in possible danger of a prison sentence. To retain your Liberty one can be helped , to retain justice in other scenarios – no. Civil justice is therefore seemingly ahead of criminal justice?

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