Frazer Whitehead, chair of the Society of Labour Lawyers, examines the government’s partisan attacks on civil justice, trade unions and human rights.
With a government pursuing an agenda of attacks on civil justice, employees, trade unions and human rights, the need for robust legal defence has never been stronger.
Despite Cameron’s “caring capitalism” rhetoric we see the government launching a frenzy of changes to employment law, proposing to push through reforms that mean employees have to wait two years before being able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal; and at the same time enabling employers to avoid liability for what they say through the introduction of so-called “protected conversations”.
On trade unions, we’re seeing attacks across the country on facility time, prompted by special interest lobbyists masquerading as think tanks, such as the Tax Payers Alliance. And repeated calls by leading Conservative figures to introduce a minimum turnout requirement on industrial action ballots, paying no regard to the internationally recognised right to strike.
Meanwhile Ken Clarke callously continues his assault on civil justice through proposing to significantly reduce the scope of legal aid and by changing the way that personal injury claims are funded. These changes will disenfranchise up to 25% of claimants injured through no fault of their own, including the victims of workplace accidents and industrial disease, whose cases would be run today, but abandoned tomorrow. Should these reforms go through only the very wealthy will be able to afford representation in anything other than a straightforward case.
“Vote blue, go green” has long since been abandoned, as the government now seek to reform the law enabling public authorities to be challenged for failing to protect the environment. In the battle between special interests and the environment, it is the environment that pays the price.
Lurking behind these law reforms lie powerful organisations with vested interests, persuading the government that the courts are inundated with vexatious claims they allege are paralysing the UK economy. When access to justice for the individual is pitched against the special interests of the insurance lobby, it is clear who the government favour. The only winners here are those who have donated over £5m to the Conservatives since David Cameron became leader: the insurers.
And on the international stage, where for decades the UK has led the way on the development of human rights, we see David Cameron using the UK Presidency of the European Council to attack the European Court of Human Rights, in a bid to pitch human rights against the ‘British interest’.
With the government commissioning an investigation into the introduction of a ‘British Bill of Rights’, and further proposed changes to a whole host of legislation, it is important the Labour movement has the ability to respond.
Founded in 1948, the Society of Labour Lawyers develops policies and strategies for Labour in government to bring about a more just and equitable society, and in opposition, to fight back against efforts of successive Tory governments to destroy what Labour has achieved.
Over the 13 years of the last Labour government, around two thirds of the policy proposals discussed in the 1996 Society book “Law Reform for All” (edited by David Bean with a foreword by Tony Blair) were implemented. Articles included Lord Irvine on the legal system, Jack Straw on “the penal system in crisis”, Roger Smith on legal aid, John Wadham on “A Bill of Rights” and Rabinder Singh on discrimination law.
Members of the Society include practitioners, students and magistrates, as well as distinguished specialists and lawyer politicians. Subject groups draw on specialist, academic and day-to-day experience to develop ideas in all areas of the law. A series of Westminster Workshops put the practitioner in front of the politician and encourage constructive dialogue.
If you are a lawyer, a Labour Party member and concerned about the government’s partisan attacks on civil justice, employees, trade unions, and human rights you can take a step to rebalance the arguments by joining the SLL. Contact Grace Cullen or email@example.com for more information.