Posts Tagged ‘employment’

Law Reform Proposals

Reform proposals

In 1986 Lord Gifford QC published proposals for the reform of the justice system, described as a realisable manifesto for a complete overhaul of the legal system. This included the following:


  • The position of Queen’s Counsel to be abolished. It is better, in Gifford’s opinion, for lawyers to be assessed by their talents and reputation rather than by the secret bestowal of honours by the state.

  • Wigs and gowns no longer to be worn. The wig and gown are intended to convey a message: that we, judges and barristers, are different and superior; that we have more in common with each other than with you, the litigants; that we practice a craft which you can never understand.

  • Judges to be appointed from a wide range of people, including younger people, solicitors and academics.

  • Magistrates to be selected from across the whole community.

  • Extension of the right to trial by jury.

  • Court procedures to be reformed to meet the needs of the public.

  • Extension of the legal aid scheme.

  • The creation and proper funding of a network of community law centres across the country. The Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949 was based on the principle that no-one should be prevented from obtaining the services of a lawyer through lack of means. State funds were made available through a means test. In 1950 an estimated 80 per cent of the population was covered by legal aid.

  • The abolition of the monopoly of advocacy. This was a very interesting proposal. Gifford argued that non-lawyers should have the right to represent people in court and that all qualified lawyers should have rights of audience before all courts. This would move towards the democratisation of the legal system. If implemented, it would strike a serious blow at the power of the legal profession.

Gifford also made the following points:


  • Comprehensive legal services should be provided in a similar way to health services.

  • Socially and culturally, the Bar is a privileged profession which is structured to exclude those who do not fit in.

  • The role of judges should be to uphold the law equally and impartially. But when they have no conception of what it is to be, for example, a worker facing redundancy, they are incapable of discharging that role.

This programme of reforms was adopted as part of the election manifesto of the Labour party and then forgotten.

In reality, we have moved backwards since 1986.

It is significant that Gifford’s proposals are similar, in some respects, to those put forward by the Levellers in the Seventeenth Century.

The Levellers’ proposed reforms included:


  • Codification and simplification of the law

  • Prison reform

  • Decentralisation of the legal system

  • The abolition of the lawyers’ monopoly on representation and advocacy.


Compensation Awards

The Ogden Tables

These Tables took their name from Michael Ogden QC who was the chair of the working party which first drew them up. They involve the calculation of multipliers for future financial loss in personal injury cases based on actuarial principles. They are of crucial significance in personal injury cases.

The multiplier takes a claimant’s life expectancy and multiplies it by a rate of annual loss. The age of the claimant is a key factor. The Tables do not refer at all to a claimant who does not know his or her age.

The assessment of compensation is a highly-paid branch of law on its own. It is practically impossible for a successful claimant to accurately calculate his amount of compensation himself. Money can thus be made by lawyers from deciding on an amount of money.

The assessment of amounts of compensation for civil wrongs depends, as a starting point, on the age of the claimant. Legal textbooks dealing with civil procedure state, without further explanation, that formulas for future loss of earnings and other aspects of compensation depend upon the claimant’s age. The assumption of knowledge of age is the basis of the entire system of assessing amounts of compensation. Did the compilers of the Ogden Tables realise that some citizens have no birth certificates? Those of us who have worked with deprived persons from the Afro-Caribbean community know that, for a number of the middle aged and elderly, their date of birth is unknown. They know that they were born in the Caribbean fifty or sixty years ago but they have no record of their date of birth. The absence of proper certification systems in the colonial or post-colonial territories, with the implication of a legacy of slavery, means that such persons are at a huge disadvantage in their dealings with the legal system. On top of their weakness on financial and educational grounds, they face the added disadvantage of a third-world registration system up against a first-world legal system. How can you assess compensation if the client does not know his or her age? The unthinking assumption that all potential claimants know their dates of birth can be characterised as a form of unintentional racism in that it places certain ethnic groups at a disadvantage.

The issue of those who do not know, or cannot prove their age, is significant in the context of asylum and immigration cases, where “age dispute” is a recognised area of law. The Ogden Tables are untouched by this reality.


GLOSSARY (Compiled by Polly Lord)

The following is a provisional explanation of words and phrases which appeared in last week’s blog and which in my experience I have had to explain to students and clients or which have a technical legal meaning different from their normal usage.

Actus reus: Conduct of the accused: see R v Miller (1983)

Advocacy: Professional pleading in court

Advocate: Any person who represents another in legal proceedings

Attorney General: The principal law officer of the government, and head of the Bar

Bands: The development of a neckband into two hanging strips.

Bear Garden: Rooms in the Law Courts where Masters hear short applications (see Chapter 3 for full description)

Bench wig. The wig worn by judges when they are sitting in court.

Bencher: A senior member of an Inn of Court

Bibliography: A systematic list of books and articles used as source material

Black bag. The bag at the back of the barrister’s gown is often called a fee bag. The origin of this is said to be that the barrister’s fee was placed in the bag so that the barrister did not have to demean himself by handling money.

Blue bag. The traditional bag used by junior barristers for carrying fancy dress.

Bona fide: Genuine

Breach of statutory duty: Breaking a duty imposed by statute

Breeks: A Scottish term for trousers

Bundle: A collection of documents

Cab rank principle: A barrister has a public obligation, based on the paramount need for access to justice, to act for any client in cases within their field of practice. A barrister cannot refuse a case because of disapproval of what the client has done or is alleged to have done

Call: A formal ceremony, conducted at the Inns of Court, when a student barrister has completed vocational training and is qualified to act as an advocate under the supervision of another barrister

Case law: Law created by decisions of courts

Caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware: a disclaimer of responsibility

Chambers: A judge sitting in chambers does not mean that he is sitting in any particular room, but that he is not sitting in open court: also, the traditional name for a group of barristers sharing office space
Chambers tea: A traditional gathering of barristers for light refreshments at a particular time

Champerty: The offence of assisting in a case with a view to receiving a share of the disputed property.

Civil action/proceedings: Legal proceedings based on a civil right as opposed to a criminal prosecution

Civil Procedure Rules (CPR): Procedural rules prescribed for civil courts

Class justice: Justice which operates in favour of one class and against another

Clerk: An administrative assistant to judges, magistrates or barristers

Client: Customer

Collar stud: A device for attaching a collar to a tunic shirt. There are two types of collar stud. One is short and used at the back of the shirt. The other is long, hinged and is used at the front

Collarette: A female barrister’s collar. It consists of a high, round, soft collar. The extra fabric forming the front sits over the shoulders and chest and hides clothing

Common law: Law which has been developed by the judiciary through the setting of precedents, as opposed to being created by the legislature through statutes and regulations

Conditional fee agreement: An agreement for the supply of legal services where a fee is payable only in certain circumstances, normally if the client wins

Conduct of litigation: Steps taken by a restricted group of lawyers to progress a case

Conspiracy: An agreement to carry out an unlawful act

Contingency fee: An agreement for the supply of legal services where a fee is payable only if the client wins.

Conveyancing: The transfer of an interest in land.

Corporate manslaughter: Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, a company is guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised amounts to a gross breach of the duty of care which it owes to employees or the public and those failings have caused a death

Counsel: Barrister

Crown immunity: The ancient principle that the sovereign and many government departments are exempt from legal sanctions

Damages: Financial compensation

Devil: A barrister paid by another barrister to do the latter’s work

Directives: European legislation which imposes a duty on member states to enact legislation

Director of Public Prosecutions: The head of the Crown Prosecution Service who has power to decide whether prosecutions should proceed

Disability Under the Naturalisation Act 1870, “disability” meant “the status of being an infant lunatic, idiot or married woman”. The most recent definition is now set out in the Equality Act 2010 as “a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to perform normal day-to-day activities”

Discovery: A civil procedure which enables a party to a case to obtain evidence before a trial by asking the other party questions or requiring the production of documents

Employment Appeal Tribunal: The appellate tribunal for decisions made by employment tribunals

Employment Tribunal: The tribunal with jurisdiction to hear employment disputes

Entail: A settlement of succession in land so that it cannot be bequeathed at pleasure

Eructation: Belching

Ex parte: In summary, legal proceedings brought by one party in the absence of other parties

Fee bag. See Black bag

First instance: The first decision made by a court or tribunal in a case which has subsequently been appealed

Folio: (Obsolete)The number of words (72 or 90) taken as a unit in reckoning the length of a document

Full bottomed wig: The wig worn by judges on ceremonial occasions

Green bag. A bag for exclusive use by judges.

Grievance procedure: Employers’ procedure for complaints by employees

Guinea: 21 shillings. Replaced in 1816 as currency in Britain but retained in legal circles until decimalisation in 1971

Habeas corpus (Have your carcase): An ancient remedy requiring the production of a deatined person to a court

Hearing: A formal session in a court or tribunal.

Human rights: Fundamental rights and freedoms

In camera: Private hearing
Incorrigible rogue: A criminal offence of vagrancy under the Vagrancy Act 1824. Last known to be invoked in 2000 against a 19 year old

Inns of Court: Four legal societies having the exclusive right of admitting persons to practise at the Bar (Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Lincoln’s Inn, Gray’s Inn)

Intellectual property: Exclusive rights to a range of intangible assets, for example copyright, trademarks and patents

Judiciary: Professional judges in a legal system

Justice: Fairness

Ladies’ collar. Similar to a collarette but without the extra fabric front

Law Centre: In summary, an organisation providing free legal assistance

Legal aid: Financial assistance given by the state to those who cannot afford legal advice or representation. Now largely of historical interest

Legal expenses insurance: Insurance, often contained in a wider policy, which provides cover for the cost of legal assistance

Letters Patent (Literae patentes): Writings of the sovereign, sealed with the Great Seal, whereby a person or company is enabled to do acts or enjoy privileges which he or it could not do or enjoy without such authority

Libel: A statement in writing which attacks a person’s reputation

Lightweight pincetta gown: A gown which is “ideally suited to warmer climates”

Litigant in person: A party to legal proceedings who is not represented by a lawyer

Litigation: The conduct and progression of a case

Lord: A member of the House of Lords

Manslaughter: In summary, killing without the intention required for murder

Master: A member of the judiciary who deals, generally, with procedural matters

Mediation: A type of alternative dispute resolution involving negotiation with an independent third party

Mens rea: Guilty mind
Miscarriage of justice: The conviction and punishment of an innocent person

Murder: In summary, killing with intent. May not be criminal if committed by the state

Natural justice: Based on innate moral sense: minimum standards of fairness in judging a dispute

Natural law: Belief in a system of justice common to all men, with vaguely mystical origins

Neckband shirt see Tunic shirt

Negligence: A civil wrong developed by the courts, involving a duty of care, breach of that duty and resulting loss

Novus actus interveniens: A new intervening act which breaks the chain of causation and avoids liability

Ogden Tables: Actuarial tables for use in personal injury and fatal accident cases, based on various factors

Parliamentary draftsman: Professional drafters of legislation

Party: A person involved in litigation

Pecunia non olet: Money does not smell. Reputedly originating from the Roman Emperor Vespasian’s urine tax

Perpetuities: This property law concept is impossible to define concisely. See Chapter 3

Practice: Work as a lawyer

Pro bono: Pro bono publico, for the public good. Professional work done without charge

Pro hac vice. An appointment for a particular occasion only

Public access: Direct access for the public to a barrister without having to employ a solicitor as a go-between

Punter see Client

Pupil: A trainee barrister working under the supervision of another barrister

Pupilmaster: The barrister who supervises a pupil

QC tail. A coat worn by Queen’s Counsel

Quantum: The amount of compensation

Quantum meruit. As much as has been earned: reasonable value
Queen’s Counsel: An honour conferred on barristers of standing and experience

Red bag. A bag bestowed as a gift from a QC to a junior barrister for outstanding work. The bag carries the initials of the junior barrister and there is parchment in the bag for the QC to write a message

Refreshers: A barrister’s additional fee when a case overruns its estimated length: effervescent confectionery

Res ipsa loquitur: A circumstantial rule of evidence based on the concept that, where an accident happens under circumstances where it is so improbable that it could have happened without negligence, the mere happening of the accident gives rise to an inference of negligence
Risk assessment: The assessment of potential hazards

Rogue and vagabond: “Every person pretending or professing to tell fortunes, or using any subtle craft, means, or device, by palmistry or otherwise, to deceive and impose on any of his Majesty’s subjects; every person wandering abroad and lodging in nay barn or outhouse, or in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or waggon… and not giving a good account of himself or herself… every person, wilfully, openly, lewdly, and obscenely exposing his person … with intent to insult any female; every person wandering abroad, and endeavouring by the exposure of wounds or deformities to obtain or gather alms; every person going about as a gatherer or collector of alms, or endeavouring to procure charitable contributions of any nature or kind, under any fals or fraudulent pretence … every person being found in or upon any dwelling house, warehouse, coach-house, stable or outhouse, or in any inclosed yard, garden or area, for any unlawful purpose … and every person apprehended as an idle and disorderly person, and violently resisting any constable, or other peace officer so apprehending him or her, and being subsequently convicted … shall be deemed a rogue and vagabond. (Vagrancy Act 1824, section 4, as amended).

Royal Bencher: A member of the Royal family who holds the office of Bencher in an Inn of Court without having to obtain legal qualifications

Rule of law: The subordination of all authorities to certain legal principles

Senior barrister: A proposal that a barrister with a number of years’ experience should be described as a senior barrister was rejected by the Bar Council because it would confuse the public

Serious Fraud Office: An organisation responsible for the investigation and prosecution of serious criminal offences.

Silk: King’s Counsel or Queen’s Counsel, so-called because they wear silk gowns

Supreme Court: The new name for the House of Lords, the highest appeal court

Table/Tabling: Lists of statutes and cases which appear in legal textbooks

Taxonomy: Principles of classification

Temple. Two Inns of Court – Inner and Middle – originally occupied by the Knights Templars. Part of London between the Strand and the Thames.


For those, like me, who have no idea what a tippet is, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives the following guidance:

  • A long narrow strip of cloth or hanging part of dress, either attached to and forming part of the hood, head-dress or sleeve, or loose, as a scarf or the like.
  • A garment, usually of fur or wool, covering the shoulders, or the neck and shoulders; a cape or short cloak.
  • A band of silk or other material worn round the neck, with the two ends pendent from the shoulders in front.
  • A hangman’s rope.

Touting: Soliciting custom

Trousering: Obsolete slang for stealing

Tunic shirt. A collarless shirt worn by lawyers.

Vesting: Conferring an immediate right

Volenti non fit injuria: No injury is done to a person who consents to it. A largely obsolete defence of consent to a claim for compensation for a civil wrong

War crime: A violation of the laws of war

Welfare law: Generally, the law of social security

Wig: A horsehair wig is worn in most courts by barristers. Reputedly imported from France in the seventeenth century to indicate social standing and wealth

Work-related stress: Mental disorder caused by workplace conditions

Mystery Jargon

Mystery jargon


The terminology of the profession can baffle those of us who qualified many years ago, so we can only wonder how it appears to non-lawyers. What, for example, do the following mean? How are they different from their non-legal meanings?


Actus reus



Bear Garden

Bench wig


Black bag

Blue bag



Cab rank principle


Case law

Chambers tea

Civil action/proceedings







Ex parte

Full bottomed wig

Green bag


Habeas corpus
In camera
Inner Temple

Inns of Court


Junior QC

Ladies’ collar


Lightweight pincetta gown



Master of the Rolls

Mens rea
Middle Temple
Neckband shirt see Tunic shirt


Novus actus interveniens
Ogden Tables


Pecunia non olet


Pro bono
Pro hac vice
Punter see Client




Quantum meruit
Queen’s Counsel
Red bag


Res ipsa loquitur
Rogue and vagabond
Royal Bencher

Senior barrister

Senior junior

Senior QC




Tenant in tail



Treasury Devil


Tunic shirt

Vest, vesting

Answers will be given in the next blog.


Money and the Law

Each wanton judge new penal statutes drawLaws grind the poor, and rich men rule the lawGoldsmith, The Traveller
A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a thousand men with guns 


Mario Puzo, The Godfather

Lord Bingham commented that equality before the law is an aspect of the rule of law. He stated his view that the laws of the land should apply equally to all and that it is the duty of the state to make the machinery of law work alike, for rich and poor.

My own forty years of legal practice have led me to the generalised conclusion that lawyers, as a group, have a vastly inflated sense of their own importance. They see themselves as wealthy, powerful and influential. They have expressly described themselves in the legal press as “fine fellows”. They are not aware that the existence of the legal profession depends on the continued existence of law – indeed, they would be shocked by any suggestion that they might be replaceable. For example, the most wealthy group of lawyers are generally those who deal with tax. They work behind the scenes, weaving webs and arranging the movement of money, dressed up in the highly technical vehicles of trusts and companies. If tax were to be abolished – which it could, because any statute can be repealed – then these lawyers would be out of a job. What needs to be realised is that it is politicians who exercise real power and that lawyers hang onto their coat tails, using their skills, contacts and knowledge of the rules to make fortunes for themselves. They are important only because they exist. If they did not exist, who would care?

Budget 2012

Polly Lord takes a light-hearted look to what yesterday’s Budget means…

Yesterday, I found myself in a rather unusual position…I found myself applauding the Conservatives.

Now, this is not usually a position I adopt. I certainly never agree with the ruling party, that’s for sure. But as a low earning, “thirsty” , 20-something with no children, no desire to buy or sell property, and no comprehension of retirement I would. I have to admit, it’s a budget aimed at me.

The problem I see is that I am rather odd. Aside from the obvious personality reference, my situation is peculiar. I am not unemployed, but a youth. I pay tax, but only a little. I have absolutely no financial, emotional or social ties to speak of (aside from a growing menagerie of animals), and yet I am relatively stable. A good pal of mine is the same age as me, we went to the same university, we live two streets apart from each other here in Bristol, we both have two degrees but the big difference is, he is still unemployed. When I say “still” I mean, actually not yet found a job since doing his Masters. Considering he graduated in 2011, that’s a worrying trend. Yet nothing in yesterday’s budget is going to help my pal get what he really wants…a job. If he had bypassed university he would probably have worked his way up some impressive well known company and be in charge of 100s of people…or at least something like stationary.

So my fellow non-grown ups are still suffering. The proper grown-ups, the ones with children and property and cars that bring with it responsibility are likely to be drastically worse off. They will be expected to continue to fight off the constant worry of being placed “at risk of redundancy”, ensuring that they never drive anywhere as their car is apparently fuelled on liquid gold, and also hoping that they or their family never get ill should the NHS reforms come in. On top of this, the HMRC will now be able to hunt them down for the tax that they are willing to pay, but are too confused to do so due to the constant pendulum of changes that occurs in the British tax system. At least by 2014 they will be able to see how other people are spending their hard earned money…

Oh well, at least they can look forward to retirement… Even though we’re not quite sure what the age will be, probably 90 or something by then; we also don’t know if the state pension will exist, or if the complicated layers of tax system will end up meaning that pensioners actually have to pay the government for staying alive.

So as long as you’re a fake grown up that’s playing to be a grown up with no possessions or relationships of any real value, it’s been a good budget. With that depressing thought, I’m off to the pub…

Horseracing:Health and Safety

Leading racehorse trainer prosecuted for health and safety failings

With Cheltenham Festival coming up this week, it seems appropriate to report on a recent health and safety prosecution following an incident at a top racehorse trainer’s yard.

Flat trainer Alan Swinbank is currently ranked 52nd in the trainer’s rankings, and is notable for his most prolific winner Collier Hill who earned £2.3 million in prize money. His stables up in North Yorkshire are a well-known, sizable and professional yard. However, not even this undoubted success makes Mr Swinabnk immune from both accidents and the Health and Safety Executive.

Paul Cussons, who worked for Mr Swinbank at his yard for 26 years, was asked by his employer to cut down overhanging trees above an old stable block. He had not been trained in how to use a chainsaw or how to work safely at height. He took the chainsaw onto the roof, but while he was sawing through the branches he slipped on leaves and fell through a skylight, landing on the concrete floor. He broke both shoulder blades, fractured a rib and punctured a lung.

Mr Swinbank was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive under section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act for failing to provide training, protective equipment and failing to identify risks. He was fined £10,000 and £6,048 in costs.

Horseracing is the second biggest sporting industry in the UK. It generates more than £3.7 billion, with £325m going directly to the Government through taxation revenue. It also employs 20,000 direct, and 70,000 indirect, full-time employees. It also, however, is notoriously dangerous. In terms of general approach to health and safety it is analogous to agriculture, which is seen as the most dangerous sector in Great Britain. To put into perspective, other sectors average at fatality rate of 0.7 per 100,000 workers, whereas in agriculture the rate is 9.6.

The problem in horse racing, but equally so agriculture, is that while the industries are inherently riskier, the general attitudes of those involved is to downplay health and safety. From my own experience this is due to a range of factors that are peculiar to these industries, e.g;

  • When dealing with livestock, your health and safety tends to be secondary to the animal’s welfare
  • Those involved in the sector tend to come through the family ranks, or certainly be used to certain risks. To an outsider, it looks dangerous, but if someone is used to “risks” they become desensitised.
  • The attitudes of those involved is “to get the job done” as a priority. If this means scrabbling over heath and hedge in precarious positions, so be it.

While I feel utter sympathy for Mr Cussons, particularly as even 16 months after the incident he was still badly affected by his injuries, the Health and Safety Executive must realise that in agriculture and equestrian worlds, people tend to live by their own set of rules. Generally, the employers involved are not cruelly avoiding protecting their employees, or evading the law to cut costs. No, generally, those employers are not used themselves to having to carry out risk assessments etc. They treat their staff as they were treated. The Health and Safety Executive must work with this sector in order to understand what practical in that sector. Then, and only then, will the rate of fatalities come down.

Operation Relentless

Operation Relentless – Avon and Somerset Police

While Chambers does not usually foray into criminal law, today we will make a small exception on this blog.

Operation Relentless is currently underway, and being operated by Avon and Somerset Police. The force has issued arrest warrants for burglars, street robbers and drug dealers through Bristol, South Gloucestershire, Bath and Somerset. This year-round scheme’s aim is to increase communities’ safety, not just by removing criminals from the community, but also by increasing the visibility of police officers.

What is particularly fascinating is that the force is keeping the public up to date on their progress via twitter on their webpage. Criticisms of the police, not just Avon and Somerset but nationally, are almost daily tabloid fodder. It is thus not just interesting to get a glimpse into a police operation, but more importantly it demonstrates a real awareness by Bristol’s police force that accountability and openness are vital to maintaining trust in our local police.

Perhaps it is fitting to leave the final words to Avon and Somerset police;

“Briefing at 5am today. 100 arrest warrants about to be executed. A bad day for criminals in?#Bristol”

For those interested in following the updates, the website is


Employment Tribunal Jurisdiction



Work overseas

Case Ravat v Halliburton Manufacturing and Services Ltd [2012] UKSC 1

Statute reference Employment Rights Act 1996, sections 94(1), 230(1).

Employment lawyers in Bristol, and throughout the United Kingdom, need to be aware of this landmark Supreme Court decision.

Facts R was employed as an accounts manager by H. He was dismissed for redundancy in 2006. He complained of unfair dismissal. At the time of his dismissal he was working in Libya. He continued to live in the United Kingdom and travelled to work for short periods overseas. An employment tribunal found that it had jurisdiction over the complaint. That decision was reversed by the EAT. R appealed to the Scottish Inner House of the Court of Session, which allowed his appeal. H appealed to the Supreme Court.

Decision 1. The question of fact was whether the connection between the circumstances of the employment in Great Britain and with British employment law was sufficiently strong to enable it to be said that it would be appropriate for the employee to have a claim for unfair dismissal in Great Britain.

2. The vehicles which a multinational corporation uses to conduct its business across international boundaries depend upon a variety of factors which may deflect attention from the reality of the situation in which the employee finds himself.

3. It is notorious that the employees of one company within the group may waft to another without alteration to their essential function in pursuit of the common corporate purpose.

4. H’s business was based in Great Britain. It chose to treat R as a commuter, with a rotational working pattern. All the benefits for which he would have been eligible had he been working in Great Britain were preserved for him.

5. R had been given assurances that his employment relationship with H would be governed by British employment law. Matters relating to R’s dismissal were handled by H’s human resources department in Aberdeen. This all fitted into a pattern which pointed quite strongly to British employment law as the system with which his employment had the closest connection.

6. The fact that R’s home was in Great Britain fitted into a pattern which had a very real bearing on the parties’ employment relationship.

7. Considerable respect must be given to the decision of the employment tribunal as the primary fact finder.

8. The appeal would be dismissed. The matter was remitted to an employment tribunal to decide whether or not R had been dismissed unfairly.

The Socially Acceptable Drug Addict

When we use the phrase “drug addict”, the image of criminals and homeless people appears in our mind. These people that rob, steal and cheat their way through life to focus on gaining their next fix of crack cocaine or heroin that taints the rest of our society. These drug addicts are supplied by dangerous criminal drug dealers that form an underclass of criminality. It is a serious social problem, one that is reflected in the criminal sanctions available to the courts when they are court; those convicted of dealing heroin could face life imprisonment.

So, taking and dealing drugs are bad. Why? Well, most of us would realise it’s because they’re bad for us. However medical opinion, as science, is always subject to change. Heroin was legal up until the 1950s in the UK and regularly prescribed by doctors; it was only made illegal following international pressure to recognise its addictiveness. And there we are lead to the first great paradoxes in current thinking on drugs: illegal drugs are illegal because they are bad for us, therefore legal drugs are legal because they are not bad for us. It is widely viewed as down to this sad paradox that the drug mephedrome was taken by a number of teenagers last year which resulted in their death. This prompted the necessary reviews and reclassification in order to protect society, and a crackdown on those dealing the drug inevitably followed.

And so we have the cyclical circumstance of drug legality, the bad men deal the drugs to the naive population who don’t appreciate the effects of the drugs. They take the drugs, they suffer the bad side effects, and so the drugs are made illegal in order to make it difficult to get (among, obviously, other reasons). Job done.

But what about the biggest drug dealer in the country? The NHS, doctors and nurses who regularly supply drugs that are just as addictive and in some cases as bad for you as heroin and mephedrome? We wouldn’t call them “bad men”…would we?

Today (28th February), the BBC reported that an American study in the BMJ Open has found that that the risk of death among users of the sleeping tablet temazepam is four times higher than in non-users. In 2010, 2.8 million people were prescribed this drug, and 5.3 million were prescribed zopiclone, another common drug. The researchers found that overall 1 in every 16 patients who took sleeping pills died, compared to 1 in 80 of those it did not. Balance this increased risk with the lack of justifiable benefit of these drugs, and the future seems increasingly unclear. In their own words, the researchers said; “the meagre benefits of hypnotics, as critically reviewed by groups without financial interest, would not justify substantial risks.”

This story comes on top of the Independent’s report at the end of last year, which commented that doctors were being sued for inadvertently creating prescription drug addicts by failing to recognise the withdrawal symptoms associated with them.  The failure to follow safety guidelines, which sets out the risks of certain drugs’ effects, has lead to an increase in clinical negligence litigation over long-term prescriptions of benzodiazepines, e.g. Valium. If taken off these drugs too quickly, patients may suffer from serious, disabling pain, and many are not warned about the dangers of withdrawal which can result in seizures and death.

The problem appears the speed at which these drugs are prescribed for a variety of social problems as opposed to purely medical. Professor Malcom Lader told the Independent that;

“There is no sign that such prescribing is diminishing. The Royal College of GPs is in denial about this because they fear being sued. With around a million long-term users, the [legal] defence unions will at some point decide that these cases are indefensible and GPs will have to pay their own costs.”

If increased addictiveness without recognisable benefit is the hallmark of “bad drugs” and thus illegal drugs, why are these prescriptions still being given? Why are the civil courts responsible for dealing with the effects of these drugs, but the criminal courts are required to deal with recreational use? Where’s the crackdown? The policy reclassification? The reaction?! And so we come to the second greatest paradox; the drug dealers that we really ought to be concerned with are perhaps not those who we see loitering on the street corners, but the ones that we pay for and trust almost unconditionally….


Michelle Roberts, ‘Sleeping pills ‘linked to increased death risk’’ accessed 28th February 2012

Nina Lakhani, ‘Doctors sued for creating Valium addicts’ accessed 28th February 2012