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Unpaid work schemes: slavery or not?

We blogged on this case when it was before the High Court.  In February 2013 – 6 months later,  Caitlin Riley and Jamieson Wilson succeeded on Appeal on the basis that the back to work schemes in question did not comply with the Act of Parliament which gave the DWP the power to introduce them.  This may be regarded as a ‘procedural victory’ only and the Government has already brought in new regulations to cure the defect in process pending appeal to the  Court of Appeal judgment. We retain the original blog in order to keep updating

In August 2012 we said:

You may recall that a young woman called Caitlin Reilly got herself briefly into the news earlier in the year because she was making a challenge by way of judicial review to the effect that the government’s unpaid work schemes for the unemployed amounted to ‘slavery’ and were therefore in breach of Article 4 of the European Convention of Human Rights.  Despite her geology degree, she had been told she had to attend one with retail company on the shop floor at Poundland (and would lose her jobseeker’s allowance if she did not, although this was not what the case itself was about).

You may also recall that there was some bad publicity about these schemes and several high profile companies pulled out of them as a result, including Waterstones, TK Max and Sainsburys.

Ms Reilly was joined in her court application by Jamieson Wilson.

The High Court has now made its decision the court found that although the information given by the government about the scheme requirements was hazy and unsatisfactory (apparently changes have since been made), the schemes did not breach Article 4.  See R (on the application of Reilly and Wilson) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (2012) EWHC (Admin).

Mr Justice Fosker said that the schemes were ‘a very long way removed from the kind of colonial exploitation that led to the formulation of Article 4’

Whilst rejecting the claimants’ main arguments that the regulations should be quashed, the judge also stated that it was important that it was appreciated that the claimants had been actively looking for work and had not ‘taken their objections to the overall scheme as a means of avoiding employment and seeking simply to rely on benefits’

Anthony Wooding | Managing Partner
Head of Litigation Department, Kerseys

15 August 2012