An appeal to the United Nations, using its Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities to show how the sick and disabled in the UK are being mistreated by the government, will depend on the result of a judicial review later this month.
I have previously documented the work of Samuel Miller, to make the UN aware of the life-threatening activities undertaken by the Department for Work and Pensions under Iain Duncan Smith’s regime of cuts and changes to entitlement, so he should need no introduction.
Mr Miller has been hoping to induce the UN to consider whether the current Smith/DWP regime contravenes international agreements on human rights and the rights of the disabled. Many Vox Political readers have submitted evidence to him, to be used in support of this.
But he wrote to me yesterday, saying this work must be deferred until the result of the judicial review is known.
“Submission criteria require that domestic remedies be exhausted,” he wrote. “Any complaint submitted to the [UN] committee must first have been submitted to the national courts and authorities for consideration.
“As you are probably aware, there’s an upcoming judicial review of the Work Capability Assessment for people living with mental health problems. The dates are January 15-16 & 18, in the Upper Tribunal Courts in London.
“If I can demonstrate to the UN that remedies invoked by the State are neither effective nor available, then UNCRPD complaints would carry more weight.”
He quoted a letter from Jorge Araya, secretary of the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, who stated: “Complainants have initially the duty to demonstrate that they have exhausted domestic remedies, then the burden shifts to the State party to demonstrate that there are remedies still available; if that happens, complainants should demonstrate that remedies invoked by the State are neither effective nor available.”
So that’s the situation at the moment. Before Christmas, Mr Miller said the amount of time required to mount a judicial review would put the lives of sick and disabled people in jeopardy; that is not the case while one is about to be heard.
Also, consultation with a barrister, Steve Broach (@SteveBroach) has suggested that sick and/or disabled people should explore potential judicial review with solicitors – especially after the DWP announced that people on sickness benefits were “to be offered work experience to help them back into a job”.
The DWP’s announcement last month stated: “People on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who have been assessed as being able to go back to work at some point are placed in the Work-Related Activity Group for the benefit and are expected to take part in activity which helps them prepare for a return to employment. One of the options available to them will now include voluntary work experience.
“Having taken into account an individual’s circumstances, a Jobcentre Plus adviser or Work Programme provider may feel that an appropriate mandatory work placement – which must be of benefit to the community – would be helpful.
“People who fail to carry out any agreed work-related activity without good reason may face having their benefits sanctioned. The sanction will be made up of an open-ended period which is lifted when the claimant meets the requirements, followed by a short fixed period of 1, 2 or 4 weeks.”
The sticking-point would be the cost of bringing a judicial review – in the region of £10,000 to £20,000 for a straightforward case; higher for a more complex matter. If the claimant is unsuccessful, they are likely to be liable for the defendant’s costs as well as their own. “They are therefore looking at a legal bill of upwards of £30,000 if they lose, and they must be prepared for this eventuality, bearing in mind the unpredictability of judicial review proceedings and costs orders,” Mr Miller told me.
Also, of course, we know that David Cameron has vowed to crack down on appeals that delay new laws, planning decisions and policies, and this could potentially be extended to human rights judicial reviews, since his has government already made substantial cuts to legal aid.
What do you think? I’m really interested in hearing what readers think about this.
Could you mount a judicial review, if a decision was made to force you into a work placement and you thought it would harm your health?
What about those of you in the legal profession? You should understand the current situation – regarding the cost of legal action – better than anyone else – is it realistic to expect people on sickness and disability benefits to finance expensive court cases?
If not, what other possibilities are available?