The Supreme Court has ruled that employment tribunal fees are unlawful. The landmark decision is a massive result in favour of workers’ rights across the UK.

The impact of this decision is that the government will now have to pay out up to £32 million to claimants who have paid fees over the past four years.

The government first introduced tribunal fees in 2013, which ranged from £390 (for claims such as breach of contract) to up to £1,200 (for claims such as unfair dismissal or discrimination).

They were introduced to deter spurious claims and ensure users contribute to the cost of court services. However, government figures show the number of cases being taken to tribunal fell by an estimated 79% in just three years.

This sharp drop prompted the Supreme Court to rule on a case brought by trade union Unison that the fee schedule adopted “prevents access to justice, and is therefore unlawful.”

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too.”

He added: “These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up.

“We’ll never know how many people missed out because they couldn’t afford the expense of fees.”

Following the ruling, Dominic Raab, justice minister, said the government will immediately remove employment tribunal fees.

Beyond the £32 million reimbursement, it’s not clear what will happen next. The government could still reintroduce fees in some form but the structure and level will have to be different.