R (Reilly) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

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Caitlin Reilly and Jamieson Wilson v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2012] EWHC 2292 (Admin) was a 2012 legal case heard by the Administrative Division of the High Court in which Caitlin Reilly, an unemployed geology graduate, and an unemployed driver, Jamieson Wilson, challenged the Department for Work and Pensions "workfare" policy whereby the unemployed can be "forced" to work for private companies for their benefit payments. Under the workfare scheme, individuals have the right to opt out, but face having their benefits removed--something that makes participation in the scheme necessary for those who would be unable to support themselves without their benefit payments. The outcome of the case affects over 3,000 claimants and entails around £130m unpaid benefits.[1]

First High Court ruling[edit]

On 6 August 2012, the High Court ruled (contrary to the arguments of Reilly and Wilson) that the scheme could not be considered slavery, and was not therefore a breach of Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights.[2][3] On the other hand, it also ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions had breached its Regulation 4 (which required certain details of the Work Programme to be given to participants in writing).[4]

Both parties expressed their wish to appeal the judgement.[5]

Court of Appeal and Supreme Court rulings[edit]

On 12 February 2013, the decision of the High Court was overturned on appeal, with the Court of Appeal ruling that the work placement system was unlawful because parliament had not given the DWP lawful authority to impose such schemes and because the people involved were not provided with sufficient information about it. The Court of Appeal quashed the Jobseeker's Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011. The court did not state whether or not the current case impinges on Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights.[6][7]

The government appealed the judgement,[8] but on 30 October 2013, the decision of the Appeal Court was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, the court also stated explicitly that there had been no contravention of Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights. [9] However since the court ruled against workfare the comments regarding the human rights do not form part of the reasons for the judgement and therefore are not legally binding.[10]

Government retrospectively changes the law[edit]

However, on 19 March 2013, before its appeal was completed, the Government also passed the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013 to retrospectively make its unlawful sanctions against benefits claimants legal, in order to avoid potentially having to repay unlawfully withheld benefits payments of around £130m.

High Court ruling on retrospective law-change[edit]

In response to the law-change, the law firm acting for Reilly and Wilson, Public Interest Lawyers, lodged submissions to the Supreme Court, arguing that 'the actions of the secretary of state … represent a clear violation of article 6 [of the European convention on human rights] and the rule of law, as an interference in the judicial process by the legislature'.[11]

On Friday 4 July 2014, Mrs Justice Lang, sitting at the High Court in London, ruled that the retrospective nature of the legislation interfered with the "right to a fair trial" under Article Six of the Convention on Human Rights. The government announced that it would appeal this ruling.[12][13]

See also[edit]