Iain Duncan Smith took an metaphorical slap in the face from the High Court today when Mrs Justice Lang said his retroactive law to refuse docked payments to jobseekers was not legal.
The Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013 was rushed onto the statute books after the DWP discovered the rules under which it had docked Jobseekers’ Allowance from 228,000 people, who had refused to take part in Workfare schemes, were illegal.
The ruling does not mean that everyone who was penalised for refusing to take part, or for leaving the scheme once they had started it and realised what it was, may claim back the JSA that had been withdrawn from them.
But anyone who appealed against a benefit sanction on the basis of the previous decision will be entitled to win their appeals and be repaid the withheld benefits – as Vox Political advised at the time. That payout could be as high as £130 million.
The judge said retrospective application of the 2013 law conflicted with the European Convention on Human Rights and “interfered with the right to a fair trial” of all those affected.
(This is, of course, one reason why the government wants to repeal the Human Rights Act – your human rights obstruct ministers’ ability to abuse you.)
This is the latest twist in a legal challenge brought by Cait Reilly, a graduate who fell foul of the scheme, in 2012. She demanded a judicial review on the grounds that being forced to give up voluntary work in a museum (she wanted to be a museum curator) to stack shelves in Poundland breached her human rights.
Poundland no longer takes part in mandatory work activity schemes run by the UK government.
Her challenge succeeded when the Court of Appeal ruled that she had not been properly notified about the scheme. This meant that the government was guilty of criminal acts in removing benefit from Ms Reilly and hundreds of thousands of others.
In response, the Coalition passed an Act that retrospectively legalised its actions – but claimants argued that this was unfair and demanded their compensation.
In the meantime, Iain Duncan Smith’s own appeal was heard – and dismissed – by the Supreme Court.
And after the Act was passed, it became clear that the Coalition had known since 2011 that the policies it was enforcing do more harm than good and are not in the national interest.
Mrs Justice Lang said today (July 4) that “the absence of any consultation with representative organisations” as well as the lack of scrutiny by Parliamentary committees had led to “misconceptions about the legal justification for the retrospective legislation”.
The 2013 Act introduced a new “draconian provision, unique to this cohort of claimants” which was “not explained or justified” by the government in Parliament “at the time”.
Mrs Justice Lang rejected the Secretary of State’s assertion that flaws in the 2011 Regulations were simply “a technicality or a loophole”, that the 2013 Act sought to give effect to Parliament’s ‘original intention’ or that repayments to benefits claimants would be “an undeserved windfall”.
She also recognised that it would be “unjust to categorise the claimants in the Cait Reilly case as claimants “who have not engaged with attempts made by the state to return them to work”, as asserted by the Department for Work and Pensions.
“This case is another massive blow to this Government’s flawed and tawdry attempts to make poor people on benefits work for companies, who already make massive profits, for free,” said solicitor Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, who appeared for the unemployed.
“Last year the Supreme Court told Iain Duncan Smith and the Coalition government that the scheme was unlawful. In this case the High Court has now told the Government that the attempt to introduce retrospective legislation, after the DWP had lost in the Court of Appeal, is unlawful and a breach of the Human Rights Act and is a further disgraceful example of how far this Government is prepared to go to flout our constitution and the rule of law. [bolding mine]
“I call on the DWP to ensure that the £130 million of benefits unlawfully withheld from the poorest section of our society is now repaid.”
So there it is, in black and white. Iain Duncan Smith has made the Coalition government a criminal organisation, guilty of 228,000 human rights violations.
This is a serious matter; some of these people may have been put in serious financial hardship as a result of the Coalition’s actions. One hopes very much that nobody died but if they did, those fatalities should be added to the many thousands who have passed away as a result of Iain Duncan Smith’s homicidal regime for claimants of incapacity benefits.
Let us not forget, also, that we remain at the mercy of these tyrants. Iain Duncan Smith has announced he intends to waste yet more taxpayers’ money on another appeal. In the meantime, a DWP spokeswoman said the legislation remained “in force” and the government would not be compensating anyone pending the outcome of its appeal.
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