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Court backs Government’s bid to ban prison officers from industrial action

The ruling came after a union had recommended action below strike level.

The Government has won its High Court bid to obtain a permanent ban on industrial action by prison officers.

The Ministry of Justice’s application followed a move in February by the POA, the Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, to call on its members to take action short of a strike.

That led to an interim injunction requiring the POA to withdraw a circular instructing members to refuse to undertake certain voluntary tasks.

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Prison officers protesting outside Pentonville (Scott D'Arcy/PA)

Daniel Stilitz QC said earlier this month the case was brought “to ensure that POA does not seek to breach the law again”.

John Hendy QC, for the POA, said each of the activities referred to in the circular were voluntary in nature and there was no evidence that any of the 35,000 members had been asked to disobey any lawful instruction.

He said steps were taken to ensure members fully complied with the February order and the court was being asked to consider the lawfulness of a circular which was no longer extant and never implemented.

On Wednesday in London, Mr Justice Jay said the Ministry of Justice was entitled to a final injunction.

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(Peter Macdiarmid/PA)

Mr Stilitz said that, in view of the importance of maintaining discipline and security within the prison service, Parliament had enacted a prohibition on inducing prison officers to take industrial action under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Despite this, he added, the POA had recently called or threatened to call industrial action on a number of occasions.

“Any inducement which leads prison officers to cease to provide services which they otherwise would have done is unlawful.”

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(Chris Radburn/PA)

The history of “unlawful” industrial action, together with the “inflammatory rhetoric”used by the POA, suggested a continuing willingness to call for industrial action despite Parliament having “clearly and deliberately” outlawed it.

“The Secretary of State is concerned that, unless the position is determined definitively by the court, there will be renewed calls for unlawful industrial action in the future.

“It is therefore critical to safeguarding the proper and safe functioning of the prison service that the scope of the statutory prohibition is confirmed.”

The judge said: “The POA has lost not just on the facts – the wording of the circular, and the finding that the circular was likely to generate a risk to the safety of prisoners and staff – but also on the important point of principle.”

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