Battling ex-cokework employees from South Tyneside will have their fight for justice heard in court.
A date has been set for the High Court to review the progress of about 350 former coke oven works illness claims against British Steel and British Coal.
This will include claims lodged by former workers at Monkton Cokeworks in Hebburn, which closed in 1992, after a long and high-profile people’s protest against the works, which had operated since 1936.
Led by Hebburn-based former county councillor Jennie Shearan, protesters living near the plant claimed it had sparked serious medical issues among the local population, including respiratory problems.
The new legal fight involves former coke oven workers, who claim they have been left with cancers and respiratory diseases because of exposure to harmful dust and fumes, several decades ago.
Law firms Irwin Mitchell and Hugh James are working jointly on two large group litigation claims against British Steel and British Coal. A spokesman for Irwin Mitchell confirmed that ex-workers from the former Monkton Cokeworks plant are among the 350 people fighting for justice.
Formal legal action in the case was launched last October and the High Court has confirmed it will review the progress of the claims on October 16.
A landmark judgement against a Phurnacite plant in South Wales in the High Court in 2012 paved the way for the legal action in other regions, including the North East, Yorkshire, Humberside, Derbyshire and South Wales.
The majority of the affected workers were employed in a range of occupations at coke oven works, such as Monkton, between the 1940s and 1980s.
Some of these ex-employees now suffer from cancer, emphysema, asthma and chronic bronchitis.
Lawyers for the former cokework employees allege British Steel Corporation and British Coal Corporation and their subsidiaries failed to correctly assess the risk of working in coke ovens, and failed to adequately protect workers from significant dust and fumes.
Roger Maddocks, a specialist workplace illness lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Hundreds of former coke oven workers are now suffering from terrible conditions, simply because of the work they carried out on a day-to-day basis.
“Employees have a basic right to be able to go to work and return home safely at the end of the day.”
In August 2012, former coke oven workers suffering from lung cancer became entitled to industrial injuries disablement benefit, subject to meeting certain employment-related criteria.
Source – Shields Gazette, 08 Aug 2014
The High Court has ruled emergency laws underpinning a government back-to-work scheme are “incompatible” with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The ruling stems from a case brought by Cait Reilly in 2012, who said being forced to work for free at a Poundland store breached her human rights.
The government brought in new rules in 2013 allowing unpaid work schemes to continue pending further legal appeals.
Ministers said they were “disappointed” by the ruling and would appeal.
But lawyers for Miss Reilly claimed the government owed about £130m to people who had fallen foul of the retrospective legislation and ministers should admit they made a mistake.
The 24-year old graduate challenged the legality of an unpaid work placement she undertook in 2011, part of the government’s “mandatory work activity” programme.
She said that she was told that if she did not agree to take part in the scheme, which she said involved stacking shelves, she would lose her Jobseeker’s Allowance.
The government was forced to pass emergency legislation amending the scheme last year after Court of Appeal ruled that the regulations underpinning it did not comply with existing laws giving the Department for Work and Pensions the power to introduce the programme
The legislation was designed to reinforce the rules to make it clear that claimants must do all they can to find work in order to claim benefits and to ensure the government did not have to repay money to claimants who had not complied with the conditions of their benefit claim.
But Mrs Justice Lang, sitting at the High Court in London, ruled on Friday that the retrospective legislation interfered with the “right to a fair trial” under Article Six of the Convention on Human Rights.
The Department for Work and Pensions said it was “disappointed” by the ruling – which it said applied to a minority of claimants – and would launch an appeal.
“We disagree with the judgment on the legislation and are disappointed,” a spokeswoman said.
“It was discussed, voted on and passed by Parliament. While this applies to only a minority of past cases and does not affect the day to day business of our Jobcentres, we think this is an important point and will appeal.”
She said the legislation remained “in force” and the government would not be compensating anyone who had been docked benefits pending the outcome of its appeal.
But Paul Heron, a solicitor for Public Interest Lawyers, said it was a “massively significant” ruling and the DWP’s decision to appeal against it would be a further blow to the “upwards of 3,000 cases sitting in the tribunal system waiting for this judgement“.
He claimed people were owed anything from four weeks benefit, about £250, to several thousand pounds and were having to mostly represent themselves at tribunals.
He told BBC News it was “about time the DWP just held their hands up, admit they made an error, and pay people the money they were entitled to at the time. That is what a responsible government would do.”
The back-to-work schemes have been condemned by critics as “slave labour” because they involve work without pay but are seen by supporters as a good way of getting the unemployed back into the world of work.
The Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s ruling on the regulations last year although the judges also rejected claims that the schemes were “exploitative” and amounted to “forced labour“.
Ministers said that the most recent legal judgement had upheld this view.
“We’re pleased the Court recognised that if claimants do not play by the rules and meet their conditions to do all they can to look for work and get a job, we can stop their benefits,” the spokeswoman added.
Poundland, one of several employers which took part in the scheme, withdrew from it in 2012.
Source – BBC News, 04 July 2014
The British National Party is in legal hot water after failing in a High Court bid to inherit £389,000 left to it by a Northumberland-born expat.
When Ashington-born Joseph Robson died in Alicante, Spain, at the age of 81 in March 2010, he bequeathed his entire estate outside Spain – worth £389,000 – to the BNP, leaving his two sons, Jeremy and Simon, with just £135 between them.
However, a judge has now ruled that Mr Robson’s bequest fell foul of the ban on foreign donations to political parties – and that the BNP broke the law by “receiving” and “accepting” the gift in breach of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
Judge Richard Sheldon QC effectively tore up Mr Robson’s will, declared that he died intestate and awarded his fortune to the sons he tried to disinherit.
There was no evidence that Mr Robson had been registered to vote in the UK at any time in the five years before his death – and he was therefore not a “permissible donor” to the far-right BNP or any other registered UK political party, the judge ruled.
Mr Robson had not lived in Britain “at any period after 1992” and exhaustive searches of the electoral rolls had failed to turn up his name.
The possibility that he was registered to vote in England in the five years before he died was “at best, highly unlikely,” the judge said.
BNP chairman Nick Griffin, along with the party’s Treasurer, Clive Jefferson, and leading party member, Adam Walker, a former teacher from County Durham, had taken steps to vary the terms of Mr Robson’s will so that the bequest would be paid into a trust, rather than directly to the party.
But Judge Sheldon said that, by doing that, Mr Robson’s gift had been inadvertantly “accepted” and “received” by the BNP in breach of the prohibition contained within the 2000 Act – which includes “penal provisions”.
Although Mr Robson’s cash had been distributed to no-one, pending the outcome of the case, the judge reached the “inescapable conclusion” that the BNP “had accepted the gift” before attempting to “pass it over” to trustees.
Mr Robson was born in Ashington, Northumberland, in 1928, and lived in Lutterworth, Leicestershire, after divorcing from Jeremy and Simon’s mother in the 1970s.
He moved to Alicante on his retirement in 1992.
He made a will in 1996, leaving the whole of his estate – mostly made up his holdings in an offshore investment fund – to the BNP, apart from the contents of a Spanish bank account, just £135, which he bequeathed to Jeremy.
Patrick Harrington, a close assistant to Nick Griffin although not himself a BNP member, had argued in court that it would be “utterly unjust” for the party to be stripped of Mr Robson’s bequest.
“One son was given nothing and the other was given less than £150. It seems pretty clear that the father didn’t want the bulk of his estate to go to his two sons – he wanted it to go to a political party,” he said.
“Mr Robson had every right to be on the electoral register but, for whatever reason, he was unaware of the provision that he had to be.
“The pathway can never lead to the sons, that can never happen,” he added.
Denying that the BNP were fighting the case because they were badly in need of funds, he told the judge: “The BNP has received sizable legacies as its support base tends to be amongst older people. It is not desperate for money.”
Mr Harrington promised that, were the cash released, “a large pool of voluntary BNP labour” would be “sitting in the British Library going through every electoral roll in the country” to find out if Mr Robson had in fact been registered to vote in any UK constituency in the five years before he died.
> Do they have that many that can read ? 😉
However, the judge ruled that, under the 2000 Act – which was introduced by the last Labour government to curb “foreign donations” to British registered political parties – Mr Robson could not lawfully have made the gift, whether in his will or during his lifetime, and that the BNP was not entitled to accept and receive it.
Neither of Mr Robson’s sons attended the court hearing, and their barrister said he was unable to comment on why their father had decided to effectively write them out of his will.
Source – Newcastle Journal 01 Feb 2014