Belfast Telegraph

Edwin Poots excluded trade unionists from Northern Ireland Social Care Council: judge

Northern Ireland's Health Minister identified trade unionists as a particular class and excluded them from a public body due to their status, a High Court judge has found.

Mr Justice Treacy held that a change in appointments policy implemented after Edwin Poots came into office was not subjected to consultation. 

Earlier this year he ruled that the Minister acted unlawfully over the failure to consider a senior trade unionist who applied for a post on the Northern Ireland Social Care Council.

Now the judge has given detailed written reasons for his decision.

John Corey a former general secretary of public sector union NIPSA, brought a legal challenge to being denied the position after interview.

It was specifically advertised as a trade union representative on the regulatory body.

In a legal challenge to the decision Mr Cory's lawyers claimed Mr Poots was irrational and biased in vetoing his appointment after becoming Health Minister in May 2011.

Two other processes started under his ministerial predecessor, Michael McGimpey, for the Blood Transfusion Service and the Council for Nursing and Midwifery had also sought trade union members.

But the court was told none were appointed by the time Mr Poots came to consider candidates.

Mr Cory, who was appointed to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in 2011, had been forward by NIPSA for a trade union post on NISCC, which regulates the conduct of social care workers.

The department was also seeking to appoint a lay member to the body. Only this position was filled.

Counsel for Mr Poots said that he did not want to narrow the pool of candidates by ring-fencing positions.

But lawyers for Mr Corey and NIPSA, who mounted a joint judicial review challenge, said the explanation was a smokescreen to hide the minister's opposition to having trade unionists on the panel.

Ruling on the case at the time Mr Justice Treacy acknowledged Mr Poots had a discretion to appoint whoever he wanted.

But the judge held that it had been unlawful to "frustrate" public law obligations from a published notice in the process which remained in place.

In newly published further reasons for his decision he said: "I am satisfied that trade unions and their members were identified as a particular class and excluded from consideration on the basis of their status."

Mr Justice Treacy identified a change in policy in relation to appointments to public bodies such as the NISCC, the Blood Transfusion Service and the Council for Nursing and Midwifery following Mr Poots ministerial appointment.

"This important change in policy was not consulted upon," he said. 

"It is correct that the Minister has a discretion to appoint whomsoever he wants and that there was no statutory obligation to appoint a trade union representative to the relevant council. 

"But the clear terms of the published notice and the policy in place at the time the notice was published generated public law obligations which were not complied with in the present case. 

"It is accepted that the Minister could have simply abandoned the competition instituted by the public notice and/or initiated an entirely new competition to accord with any new policy provided of course the new policy was not unlawful.  But he did neither. 

"Consequently, in my view the public law obligations generated by the published notice remained in place and were unlawfully departed from by the Minister."

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