The Department for Work and Pensions is set to appeal a recent court ruling on emergency legislation which was implemented following a previous judgment on welfare schemes. Following a High Court ruling the government may have to shell out as much as £130m to jobseeker’s allowance claimant’s after the judgement declared the laws introduced which aimed to shore up back to work schemes as inconsistent with European legislation.
The government’s flagship welfare-to-work scheme was successfully challenged by human right lawyers when the court ruled that it was “legally flawed”. The retrospective legislation was held to be incompatible with Article 6(1) of the European Convention for Human Rights (the Right to a fair trial) by Mrs Justice Lang. The assessment was said to be damning by campaigners who are also of the opinion that if the appeal is upheld this could lead to thousands of payouts to people who have suffered by being denied benefits under this scheme.
Critics of the back-to-work scheme have described it as “slave labour” due to the government forcing people into unpaid work placements where they are to conduct “work experience”. However, supporters of the project have backed it up by saying that this is a great way of getting unemployed people back into work and further down the line back to paid jobs. The DWP introduced this legislation retrospectively following flaws identified in the Poundland case. In the 2011 judgment three judges agreed that the regulations omitted to provide people with sufficient details regarding sanctions and in particular the subsequent loss of job seekers allowance if an unemployed person chose to turn down a work placement under the scheme.
The ruling was great news for 24 year old Birmingham University graduate Cait Reilly who challenged an order requiring her to work for Poundland, in addition to Jamie Wilson the 40 year old HGV driver who did not want to take part in an unpaid placement requiring him to clean furniture. The pair were as a result denied the benefit of Job Seekers Allowance for a period of six months.
The public interest lawyers who represented both of the above people stated that following the latest ruling, thousands of people in the UK who were punished by having their JSA taken away from them would now be able to claim the money they should have been entitled to back from the government.
11 EU member states have suggested the so called ‘Robin Hood’ tax on financial transactions. The tax is aimed at financial transactions between financial institutions charging 0.1% against the exchange of shares and bonds and 0.01% across derivative contracts. However, the UK government has expressed a negative stance towards it.
This contentious tax will be discussed for the first time at ministerial level in February 2014. There will be a meeting of the EU Economic and Financial Affairs Council under Greek Presidency of the EU.
11 EU member states, including Greece, supported the introduction of a financial transaction tax through the use of the so called EU enhanced cooperation procedure which is used when unanimity cannot be reached but member states still want to further a proposal.
However, the UK doesn’t support this measure. The opposition stance has been expressed by chancellor George Osborn who claimed that the proposition for this tax is not well designed, nor coming in the right time.
Furthermore, another influential figure that stated his negative view on the proposal is the chief executive of the Law Society, Desmond Hudson. He wrote a letter to European finance ministers in which he wanted to show that this proposal does not adequately respect the rights of the countries who chose not to participate. The problem is with the structure of the financial transaction tax. Financial entities which are based in non-participating countries (such as the UK) would still be required to pay this tax under a broad range of transactions. This includes even such transactions that do not have an actual economic link to a participating member state. Hudson emphasized on the fact that those 11 countries who chose to introduce the financial transaction tax can do so but any form of legislation should respect the decision of the majority of EU countries not to participate. The way the tax is designed to work will indirectly force a certain amount of participation by those countries.
Thus, the tax will depart from the ordinary regulation where each party to a transaction holds responsibility only for their own liabilities.
The European Commission has proposed that each leg of a transaction should be a subject to the tax and that each party is jointly or severally liable to pay. In other words, the costs will be much higher. So it is a matter of time to see how things will turn around.
‘Bringing rights home’ has been a term used in the media for quite some time by politicians in favour of creating a British Bill of Rights which is to replace the much controversial Human Rights Act. The British Home Secretary Theresa May recently said in a statement “we need to stop human rights legislation interfering with our ability to fight crime and control immigration” she continued, “that’s why, as our last manifesto promised, the next Conservative government will scrap the Human Rights Act, and it’s why we should also consider very carefully our relationship with the European Court of Human Rights and the convention it enforces”.
Such a radical move to repeal an Act often dubbed to be of ‘constitutional’ importance by many academics will have a much far reaching effect on the British legal system as well as the economy. Human rights and the European Union go part and parcel which means that Britain will need to leave the Union should they repeal the controversial Act as per Ms May’s statement. The European Union has integrated much of international law into our domestic legal system already, as a start the European Court of Justice which has many times developed important principles of law. A reshuffle will indeed be in urgent need should Britain opt out of Europe and the Human Rights Act. Such drastic actions appear to be opposed by the judiciary as Lady Hale, the UK’s most celebrated female judge stated that the UK would “regret” repealing the Act and continued to say that the only benefit of such a change would make be that it becomes “easier to get rid of certain unpopular foreigners”.
A financial cost in a time of a recession
The European Union is no doubt the world’s biggest trade block and the United Kingdom’s most important trade partner. It has been a trend the EU accounts for a majority of UK exports and also a major source for imports into the country. Leaving the Union will automatically rule Britain as an outsider subject to taxes and duties on various imports and exports. This in effect is likely to reduce the economy’s trade deficit and put the government in an ever harder financial back-foot. This consequence does not appear to be a rational risk to take in the face of minimal economic growth and at a time where Britain could boost trade relations between other major EU partners.
The question then of whether to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with another piece of domestically drafted legislation becomes and ever larger and more complicated debate. It would appear that strong opposition for the Act is coming from the Conservative party while the judiciary are in favour of working with the international courts in providing British citizens with fundamental human rights. A final point and some food for thought on this debate would be to reinstate the fact that the original European Convention on Human Rights was pioneered by British politicians and drafted by British lawyers, which is to say that Britain had a great influence on the operation of the Treaty in the first place.
The Commons Justice Committee has concluded that the proposed new European data laws are confusing, and has stated that the European Commission needs to ‘go back to the drawing board’ with regard to the proposals. The current proposal is for both a directive and a regulation to be imposed onto UK law; the Committee is adamant that such a move will only cause confusion for companies that need to comply with data and data protection laws, and is unhappy that the new proposals are not simple to understand. It did, however, agree that the harmonisation of data laws across the EU is essential.
Back to the Drawing Board
Committee Chairman Sir Alan Beith explained:
“We believe that the Commission needs to go back to the drawing board and devise a regime which is much less prescriptive.”
There is concern, he added, that the proposals were too rigid and did not allow for differences in the many varied organisations that would be party to the directive. The laws regarding data protection are already somewhat confusing, with many people believing that certain rights have been implemented when, in fact, they have not. A new set of regulations needs to easier to understand.
EC Rejects Concerns
The European Commission has, however, rejected the committees concerns. A spokesman said:
“The regulation, for the private sector, gives companies much needed legal certainty, and saves costs (up to €2.3 billion per year). The directive gives law enforcement authorities the needed flexibility, as we are talking about internal security. The regulation does not need implementation, but will be directly applicable, and therefore it is hard to see where confusion could arise.”
It remains to be seen whether an acceptable compromise can be met, but what is certain is that there is a definite need for tidying up the data laws in the EU.