Tomorrow is the start of three days of hearings in London of the CEDAW People’s Tribunal which will examine the case for the UK to introduce into domestic legislation the ground breaking UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls
I am planning to have a daily blog on the highlights of the hearings as the issues raised will be wide ranging and effect the future of women in all walks of life from pensions to domestic abuse and equal pay.
Britain is unusual in ratifying the convention some 36 years ago under Mrs Thatcher but in not implementing the changes into UK law – though some issues have been partially implemented through the 2010 Equality Act.
The majority of other countries did both – ratification followed by legislation. The hearing also comes at a key time.
Scotland has decided to implement the convention in full and the Parliament at Holyrood is already working out how to do it – after the Scottish National Party included it in its manifesto and won the election.
In Wales the Labour Party which won the Welsh Parliament elections is also committed to introducing it.
And very recently Jersey decided to ratify the convention – leaving just England and Northern Ireland as laggards in this respect.
The hearings are being organised by a very powerful team of women lawyers from Garden Court Chambers and have attracted enormous interest from women’s groups – some of whom have sent in written submissions and others are planning to give evidence. Each evening I will publish details of those who have given evidence. Watch this blog for future coverage.
A potentially ground breaking case bought by whistleblower Alison McDermott, a former consultant to the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield, began a three week hearing at Leeds Employment Tribunal this week.
The case of McDermott versus Sellafield, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and former Sellafield HR director Heather Roberts has been brought under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 – also known as the Whistleblowers’ Act.
Alison McDermott, an HR professional and diversity specialist, claims that the sudden termination of her freelance contract in October 2018 by Sellafield was linked to her protected disclosures containing evidence of systemic bullying, and racist and sexist incidents at the Sellafield site in Cumbria. The original story was reported in BylineTimes
Since the report came out the BBC did an investigation into what it called toxic bullying, homophobia, sexual harassment and racism at the nuclear plant.
At the beginning of hearing Employment judge Philip Lancaster told the tribunal: “This, of course, is not a public inquiry into an alleged toxic culture at Sellafield and it is certainly not a forum to investigate specific allegations of improper behaviour on behalf of named individuals.”
The case has been complicated by one of the organisations fighting her, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, changing its stance and is distancing itself from Sellafield. More will come out later in the case.
Ms McDermott faced aggressive cross questioning of her stance by Deshpal Panesar QC, representing Sellafield and Ms Heather Roberts, the plant’s former human resources director.
” I hope you’re not going to tell me we’re going to start letting women in burkas in here”- HR director
Ms McDermott was paid £1,500 a day – the same sum paid to previous consultants Capita -to monitor equality, diversity and inclusion at the nuclear fuel reprocessing and decommissioning site in September 2018.
Mr Panesar pointed out that she had taken no action when she first met Heather Roberts who is said to have told her “”I hope you’re not going to tell me we’re going to start letting women in burkas in here.” He said this was a reference by Ms Roberts because of security at the plant where people had to have photo passes. She said she was horrified by the reference but did not raise it with her because it was their first meeting.
Yet later after she had investigated other complaints she had pressed for a formal inquiry into a series of complaints and allegations about bullying, homophobia and sexual harassment. He accused her of ” weaponising” the issue at the plant.
Ms McDermott denied this,
She said Ms Roberts then asked her to take part in a covert investigation to “flush out” issues raised in the report, but she refused and advised her there needed to be a formal investigation.
Mr Panesar suggested she had agreed to take part in an undercover investigation, using focus groups to question staff.
Last week I had sight of the Parliamentary Ombudsman confidential preliminary report into whether there was maladministration in informing some four million women that their pensions would have to wait another six years before they got their penswion.
The report found that there was – but only from 2005. The report exonerated the Department for Work and Pensions for its handling of everything from 1995 – when the Pensions Act was passed – to 2004.
Its official words were: ” Between 1995 and 2004, accurate information about changes to State Pensions Age was publicly available in leaflets, through DWP’s agencies and on its website. What the DWP did reflects expectations set out in the Civil Service Code, the DWP Policy Statement, the Pension Services Customer Services Charter and the Benefit Agency Customer Charter”.
I thought I would check their findings against the release of hitherto secret documents from the DWP following the court case brought by BackTo60 which I obtained when the case was over.
The Ombudsman’s report says it applied the same standard to events that happened before 2005 and after 2005 – when internal documents showed the ministry did have tougher standards for the delivery and supply of information for benefits and pensions from 2006 which strengthened the Ombudsman’s hand.
What surprised me therefore was the lack of weight in the Ombudsman’s report placed on a key document in February 1997 -just months before the general election that saw Tony Blair’s landslide victory.
It read: “Ministers have seen your submission of 20 January seeking agreement to run an advertising campaign aimed at informing/reminding women of the change in state pensions age following the Pensions Act 1995.
“Ministers do not see a pressing need at this stage to run such a campaign but would be prepared to re-consider at a later date.”
Lack of curiosity
There seems to be a remarkable lack of curiosity by the Ombudsman about this. For a start the internal document shows it went right up to Peter Lilley, then Secretary of State, which is the highest level in the ministry. Secondly they don’t ask what sparked civil servants to seek such action.
Perhaps it might be because the the DWP devoted just two sentences in an appendix to the legislation to any thought of communicating the change to millions of people. They decided to leave it in the hope that employers might voluntarily tell their staff. Why should they, surely it is the government’s job? The DWP anyway insisted in the court case they had no obligation to tell anybody.
The second point is that the Ombudsman is right to mention that leaflets were printed, there was some advertising and were distributed in benefit offices and citizen advice bureaux. What they don’t say is the quantity. Internal documents show the DWP spent just £80,000 printing 47,000 leaflets to inform the 3.8 million women affected. How pathetic is that for a communications policy?
Priority given to independent financial advisers
Priority was given to informing independent financial advisers, representing the wealthiest pensioners, who received personalised letters. For some reason, this letter appeared to be missing from the 1,600 pages of documents submitted by the DWP as part of the judicial review.
Yes some £6.5 million was spent by Alistair Darling, the Labour social security secretary in 2001 on advertising -including the notorious talking dogs advert – but ministers at the time tell me the emphasis was then on getting people to take out a second workplace pension to supplement the state pension not on the impending rise in the pension age for women.
So it seems curious for me that the Ombudsman has let off the ministry for this period while coming down strongly against them after 2005 when people had little time left to plan to alter their retirement plans. The evidence that millions of people didn’t know as the internal documents reveal is shaming for the DWP, as is the slow way they reacted to the facts. Indeed, ironically it was only because civil servants feared someone would complain to the Ombudsman that they thought they must cover their backs.
Flaw in the process
My other thought about the report is the process. Normally the Ombudsman might be dealing with one family or a small group of people in handling a maladministration case. In this instance they are asking six people to respond to their report on behalf of four million people. It puts a huge burden on those six people to have the knowledge and time to respond to get this right. I don’t know who they are but I am not sure in this case this is entirely the right process – since they can’t share the findings with other people or get advice.
This is one reason once I discovered the report had been circulated rather more widely than the six – including with the DWP and MPs – that I thought, on public interest grounds, it ought to be more widely known.
Here is the Salford City Radio programme broadcast last night. I talked about the importance of tackling all discrimination against women and girls in the CEDAW People’s Tribunal. I explained how the issue had evolved from the Back To 60 judicial review over discrimination against women who lost their pensions into a three day hearing later this month with the backing of top lawyers from Garden Court Chambers.
Joanne Welch talked about the latest developments in the Back To 60 campaign which is a burning injustice issue for millions of women born in the 1950s and waited six years to get their pension.
The new Parliament has seen a complete revamp of the all party group tackling the long standing festering issue of pension inequality for millions of women caused by the mishandling of the rise in the women’s pension age.
Out go Carolyn Harris, the former chair and Labour MP for Swansea, East and co chair Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham.
In come Andrew Gwynne, Labour MP for Denton and Reddish as the new chair and Peter Aldous, Conservative MP for Waveney as co chair.
The good news is that the change means a fresh start and a move to a more inclusive approach taking in the views of all the different women’s organisations that represent those born in the 1950s who were faced with a wait for up to six years to get their pension. Unfortunately under his predecessor Carolyn Harris this was not always the case and it was a never completely clear what this group of MPs wanted in compensation for the millions of women affected by the change.
Andrew Gwynne summed up the change succinctly.
“The APPG on State Pension Inequality exists to keep the issue of the 1950s women’s pension injustice alive.
“As new Chairs, Peter Aldous and I are informally taking evidence from all the 1950s women’s groups to get as much information as possible. We also await the Ombudsman’s report.[This is the report on maladministration]
“We recently had a good meeting with BackTo60 who are providing information to us about CEDAW and whether there is a parliamentary route on the issue.”
I gather that as well as Waspi and Waspi 2018 they have asked Joanne Welch, who ran BackTo60, to address a full meeting of the committee.
This is particularly welcome news as for years we had a ridiculous position of a major court case seeking a judicial review of the government’s handling of the issue running alongside complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsman – with the former being ignored by this committee. The first dealt with the past inequalities that were enshrined by the legislation, the second with whether the Department for Work and Pensions was guilty of maladministration in handling it.
The first ultimately failed but the fact that it took place at all is due to a ruling by Mrs Justice Lang – a remarkably independent woman judge – who decided that it couldn’t have possibly been known in 1995 that the new act would cause such present hardship to a group of women born in the 1950s. She incidentally took an equally controversial decision to save at the eleventh hour from destruction Brandon Station on the Suffolk/ Norfolk border designed by the architect who supervised the stone carvings in the Houses of Parliament. See my blog here.
The great news is that MPs will now look at all proposals from full restitution to compensation, take account of what the Parliamentary Ombudsman finally says, and be able to present their views to ministers who have been extremely reluctant to award any money at all to the 50s women.
CEDAW People’s Tribunal
They have also acknowledged the link to CEDAW – the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women, ratified by Margaret Thatcher in 1986.
With a CEDAW People’s Tribunal due to be held from June 21 in London with the backing of lawyers from Garden Court Chambers – it also very likely that the plight of the 50swomen will form part of wide ranging submissions covering violence to women, unequal pay and job discrimination.
The other members of the committee are: Philippa Whitford, SNP MP for Central Ayrshire; Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd; Ruth Cadbury, Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth; Jason McCartney, Conservative MP for Colne Valley; and Gavin Newlands ,SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North.
Provisional findings point to some compensation likely to be paid to women born in the 1950s and 1960s
A confidential letter seen by this website shows the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Sir Robert Behrens, has managed to both exonerate and damn the Department for Work and Pensions for its handling of the administration of the rise in the pension age for millions of women born in the 1950s and 1960s,
The letter contains the provisional findings of an investigation which has taken years to undertake by his office – also wrongly temporarily halted because of a court case brought by Back To 60 seeking full restitution of the hundreds of millions lost by pensioners on grounds of inequality not maladministration.
The ministry is exonerated for all the work it did between 1995 and 2004 – from the passing of the 1995,Pensions Act.
DWP exonerated for first nine years of the announced change
The relevant paragraph reads: ” Between 1995 and 2004, accurate information about changes to State Pensions Age was publicly available in leaflets, through DWP’s agencies and on its website. What the DWP did reflects expectations set out in the Civil Service Code, the DWP Policy Statement, the Pension Services Customer Services Charter and the Benefit Agency Customer Charter”.
But the provisional report go on to make findings of maladministration for the department’s handling of events from 2005 to 2007 when it belatedly found out through internal research that people still did not know about the change and needed targeted information.
The report reveals that at the time the ministry had a sufficient database to have issued targeted information to people who were affected by 2005. But the huge delay in sending out letters meant in the worse case scenario many women did not get an official letter until 14 years after the event. The letter quotes Paul Lewis, a financial campaigning journalist, saying on average women born in the 1950s did not get a letter until one year and four months before they turned 60.
DWP ” did not get it right “
It says: ” We think DWP’s decision making following the 2003/04 research failed to give due weight to relevant considerations, including what research showed about the need for ” appropriately targeted” information, what was known about the need for individually tailored information, or how likely it was doing the same thing would achieve different results. It failed to make a reasonable decision about next steps. In Augusts 2005 DWP did not ” get it right”. And its failure to use feedback to improve service delivery meant it did not seek continuous improvement. Our provisional view is that it was maladministration.”
” We think DWP then failed to act promptly on its 2006 proposal to write directly to affected women, or to give due weight to how much time had already been lost.. It did not get it right because it did not meet the requirements of the Civil Service Code and it did not take all relevant considerations into account. And it failed again to use feedback to improve service delivery and seek continuous improvement.. Our provisional view is that was also maladministration.”
” We think maladministration led to a delay in DWP writing directly to women about changes in the state pension age. In our view that letters would have been issued around 28 months earlier than they were if the maladministration had not happened.”
This led to women who were not aware of the changes being given less time to make changes to their retirement plans. ” The next stage of our investigation will consider the impact that injustice had.”
The report seems to exonerate Whitehall for the way it handled the pension changes in 2011 with letters going out 18 months after the further change. But because of a huge delay in sending out letters to the women affected by the changes in 1995 many did not know until just before they thought they were going to retire.
The long awaited UN Convention for the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women People’s Tribunal will take place in London for three days at the end of the month.
Here is the announcement:
CEDAW PEOPLE’S TRIBUNAL You are warmly invited to view the Tribunal Hearings which take place between 9-5pm on these 3 dates:- Monday 21st June 21 View Here Tuesday 22nd June 21 View Here Wednesday 23rd June 21 View Here
The inquisitorial Tribunal will examine a body of evidence out of which a body of learning will evolve. Opening and Closing Statements by Garden Court Chambers will be followed on the final day by the President of the Independent Judges Panel’s ‘Brief Summary’. A Report will be published ahead of August Bank Holiday accompanied by a film where more information will also be shared.
Since there is a lot of interest by holding the hearings on line to reach the maximum number of people. The hearings will be chaired as reported before by leading QC’s and Barristers from Garden Court Chambers.
For full details of all the people involved please see my previous blogs for their profiles. More details about the issues to be debated will be published later but it is expected to comprehensively cover all the points in the Convention about discrimination against women and girls.
Later in the same week the Labour Party’s Women Conference will also be debating a motion to commit the party to supporting the UN Convention into British domestic law. The Scottish National Party is already committed to implementing the convention into Scottish law and has started to prepare to do this after winning the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May.
Plans for a People’s Tribunal in London later this year to hear the case for implementing the UN Convention to eliminate all discrimination against women (CEDAW) have received a huge boost after one of London’s leading international law firms have offered to work for them free of charge.
Garden Court Chambers, which has 197 barristers and 27 QC’s, and specialises in human rights cases has offered the services of six of its leading women barristers and QC’s to head up the People’s Tribunal which aims to draw up an ” oven ready ” Bill of Rights for Women which could be put into British law. All are working pro bono.
Smita Bajaria, a solicitor, is also working pro bono and will be instructing the barristers for the CEDAW tribunal.
The decision by Garden Court Chambers, to offer such a huge amount of pro bono work to the inquisitional tribunal is thought to be unprecedented in legal circles. All will be working on the preparation and presentation of the legal arguments and examine over 20 witnesses across the three day tribunal hearing.
The six QCs and barristers are:
Sonali Naik QC
Sonali has an extensive judicial review practice in challenges to Home Office policy, trafficking and unlawful detention and has won a number of high profile cases including a landmark case which found that Priti Patel, the home secretary, had acted illegally in demanding the “instant removal” of migrants without having access to lawyers.
Amanda Weston QC
A leading expert on public and administrative law and judicial reviews and on the preferred counsel list for taking up cases for the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
An expert on gender and race discrimination. Won a landmark case against the Home Office in the Supreme Court for the Public and Commercial Services Union and Prospect union over the discrimination against black and older applicants in promotion tests , winning a settlement of over £1m.
She is an equality and human rights lawyer with a particular expertise in cases involving child, refugee and migrant rights, sex, gender, LGBTI+, trafficking and detention. Advises the Council of Europe.
A specialist public law practice in the areas of community care (Adult and Children Act cases), human trafficking, migrant welfare, housing, and immigration and asylum law.
She commenced practice in 1995 inspired by the desire to promote the rights of the under privileged and disadvantaged and quickly established herself as a well-respected and busy human rights and immigration barrister. She is on the preferred list of Lawyers for the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
A statement from the CEDAW People’s tribunal said : “Every woman and girl born in the UK should be able to realise, as of right, her true potential.
“There is no reason why CEDAW cannot be transposed into domestic law and the delay in doing so is nothing short of unconscionable.
• A published Report out of the tribunal hearing signed-off by the Independent Panel of Judges
• Instructions for a Women’s Bill of Rights
• A film of the journey
• Roadshow e-Drop-Ins
The CEDAW Peoples Tribunal will leave a lasting legacy by providing a body of evidence for individuals, women’s campaign groups and politicians to hold governments to account.
This will lead to changes in laws and the creation of new laws to bring about a Women’s Bill of Rights and substantive, transformative equality for all women and girls.”
Labour needs popular policies that attract people from Carlisle to Camden
It would rather cruel to say Sir Keir Starmer named after Labour founder Keir Hardie should be the leader that led to its nemesis. But the weekend’s election results in the North East and the Midlands show it is Boris Johnson’s Conservatives that are the new champions of working class voters there not Labour.
That is not to belittle Labour’s achievements in Wales, Cambridgeshire, the West of England and the South Coast. In Worthing for example, Labour has gone from having no councillors there for 51 years, to a place where the Tories are reduced to a majority of just one.
But it is to say that Labour have lost the plot. They are fighting quite a different Tory Party than under Theresa May or David Cameron and they don’t seem to have got the message. This Tory Party is a high spending, interventionist party wrapped up in the trappings of Rule Britannia and law and order. It is prepared to spend loads of cash in targeted working class areas where it can garner votes and is happy for an image of Gunboats at Dawn with the French in Jersey over fishing rights knowing that a NATO ally is unlikely to open fire.
For Labour there is a choice it can either ape the flag waving ,law and order, overseas aid cutting agenda of the Tories or it could look for new ground to take on the changed Tory Party.
I have four ideas for the latter and they all affect millions of people whether they live in the North, Midlands or South of the country. If successfully implemented they could change hearts and minds.
Having a decent affordable home for Generation Rent
The first is finding a home to live. For younger people under the age of 40 this is rapidly becoming an unobtainable dream as house prices continue to surge way above wages. They are either stuck in expensive flat sharing or forced to continue living in their parent’s home. No chance to aspire to start a family there. And with little council house building social housing is not easily available for the poor.
For a real analysis of this problem read a book called Home Truths by Liam Halligan. It is a comprehensive analysis of what has gone wrong. Labour could do little better than plagiarise the ideas in this book as part of their manifesto.
The Tories – though promising to build more homes- are on the back foot on this one. Their second largest group of donors are property developers – whose rationale has to be to get the most profits for their shareholders and investors. This, as the book explains, means ensuring that house prices continue to rise and they will only rise if they drip feed rather than grossly expand house building. So here’s one policy that will appeal whether you are in Brighton or Barnsley- and it can be sloganised in simple terms as it is both aspirational and a basic need.
Time for Labour to embrace the new world of freelance working
The second is the new world of work. The old huge battalions of workers in the mines, shipyards and even steel no longer exist – the new world of work is often hi tech , freelance contracts or new businesses or low paid work in Amazon or Deliveroo. Yet neither the outdated national insurance system nor employment law helps them. Ed Miliband promised a small step in reforming national insurance under his leadership – to ensure at least the self employed millions got basic help. And this group were the worst off under the furlough scheme. Again the government is weak in this area and whether you have a start up in Maidenhead or Middlesbrough you will benefit.
Then there is the equality issue -particularly for women. Johnson is not particularly popular among women. And women are half the electorate. There are still issues of inequality, low pay and a law and order issue over women’s safety – so a women’s bill of rights to end injustice and make them safer in the streets would be very popular.
Equal access to the green revolution
Finally there is the issue of green policies. Yes the government is committed to these – but will help be distributed fairly or will electric cars be the prerogative for the better off. There is an area where carefully pointing out the problems and promising to do something about it will be attractive.
These are just some ides.. But whatever happens Labour has to up its game and get out of this continual internal battle talking to themselves and talk to the voters instead. Otherwise it will lead to its traditional male working class voters permanently voting Conservative and its more left wing voters backing the Green Party. It could disappear down a hole in the middle if it doesn’t get its act together and decide what it stands for.
Dr Jocelynne Scutt, President of panel of judges of the CEDAW People’s tribunal , Nazir Afzal Legal Consultant to the tribunal
Two of the leading people talk in advance of the planned People’s Tribunal in London
Later this year there will be a People’s Tribunal in London to evaluate the need for the UN Convention on the elimination of all discrimination against women to be put into domestic law. The convention, signed and ratified by Margaret Thatcher in 1986 has never been put into domestic law though parts of it are in the Equalities Act, 2010.
The tribunal will examine the failure to integrate CEDAW into domestic legislation; decide whether those delays are legitimate or not; and make necessary recommendations as to how the Convention can be given full effect in the UK, advancing women in all aspects of society and recognising historic inequalities.
Dr Jocelynne Scutt, the Australian feminist who is president of the panel of judges CEDAW People’s Tribunal and Nazir Afzal, newly appointed Legal Consultant to the tribunal. have talked about their hopes for a massive legal change.
Jocelynne Scutt is a senior law fellow at the University of Buckingham. She was Tasmania’s first anti discrimination commissioner and is a member of the Labour Party in Cambridge and the Australian Labor Party. She is a former judge in Fiji.
Nazil Afzal, is the former Chief Crown Prosecutor for NW England and formerly Director in London. Most recently, he was Chief Executive of the country’s Police & Crime Commissioners. During 24 year career, has prosecuted many high profile cases and advised on many others and led nationally on Violence against Women & Girls, child sexual abuse, and honour based violence. His prosecutions of the so called Rochdale grooming gang and hundreds of others were groundbreaking and drove the work that has changed the landscape of child protection. He is the new legal consultant to the tribunal.
Jocelynne Scutt believes there are many cases -particularly those involving violence against women and rape cases- where women are still not seen as credible because of prejudice or the way they dress. She points to protests from women groups over rape cases with placards saying ” Wearing a dress does not mean yes” as a good example of the way women are treated by men. She says this is similar to the ” stop and search” policy by the police where just because a black man is driving a posh car it is assumed it is either stolen or he is a drug dealer.
She said one of the big changes CEDAW could bring is to change the law to make people treated as a whole human being instead of being categorised in different legal columns. She cited a discrimination case brought on both sex and gender and racial discrimination.
” The law as it is either treats the case as a sex and gender case with a bit of ethnicity added on or a an ethnicity discrimination case with a bit of gender discrimination. People are not like that.”
The standard in courts is still based on ” Benchmark Man”
She says courts are still dominated by white male values despite the fact we have more women barristers and judges. ” As one of my colleagues says the standard is Benchmark Man- that is still the standard for everything.”
She thinks that middle class women have an advantage over working class women to progress in their careers.
” Middle class women in professional jobs can get through the glass ceiling or at least see it . For working class women – such as cleaners and care workers – they are stopped by a concrete canopy- they can’t even see the glass ceiling let alone break through it” This is something that CEDAW would change.
Both she and Nazil Afzal believe CEDAW will bring about big changes. She is optimistic that support for CEDAW will build and build to become a major issue.
Nazil believes there is no legal impediment to introducing CEDAW only a political one. He also believes that if Scotland and Wales decide to implement CEDAW while England declines to do so – it ” will lead to an even greater postcode lottery in judicial decisions than it is now.
” Probably only one per cent of lawyers understand CEDAW”
He believes that at present the vast majority of lawyers don’t understand CEDAW even though its is recognised by the courts as international law.
” Probably only one per cent of lawyers -unless it is their speciality – don’t understand it and probably among that one per cent only one per cent understand it fully “
He thinks the passing of the Domestic Abuse Bill has made the case for putting CEDAW into domestic law and also for the United Kingdom to sign up to the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic abuse.
Some 45 countries have signed up and 34 have ratified the convention. The UK is not one – one of the stumbling blocks for the UK is that it would have to give migrants equal rights.