In Secretary of State for Justice v Prison Officers’ Association  EWHC 2897 (QB), the High Court confirmed that on the balance of convenience a prior interim injunction preventing the trade union from inducing or instructing prison officers to take industrial action should be continued.
The Secretary of State had previously obtained a permanent injunction against the Prison Officers’ Association in The Ministry of Justice v Prison Officers’ Association  EWHC 1839 (QB), restraining it from inducing, authorising or supporting any form of industrial action by any prison officer (amongst other things).
The present application was the return date for an interim injunction granted on 12 October 2018 to restrain unlawful industrial action by the Prison Officers’ Association.
On 11 October 2018, there were two allegedly unconnected assaults committed in the prison on a prison officer. On 12 October 2018, prison officers operated a controlled lock-down and only allowed prisoners to leave their cells to receive medication. This was contrary to the prison governor’s instructions and followed discussions between the union and the prison officers.
However, the union argued that they merely advised the prison officers on their employment and health and safety rights, and did not induce or instruct the prison officers to take any action. They asserted that it was the claimant and prison management who were acting unlawfully by subjecting the prison officers, inmates and others present in the prison to high risk of danger and levels of violence.
The Secretary of State disagreed, alleging that the union had taken unlawful action and that the injunction sought was to therefore restrain such unlawful activity. Mr Justice Goss considered key terms, rules and scope including the relevant duties and status of prison officers, as well as what constitutes industrial action and a breach of discipline in this area of law.
The judge viewed that on the evidence of the case before him, discussions between the union and the prison officers led to the actions on 12 October taking place. He also considered that there was some unlawful action but that this aspect had not been tested or challenged specifically. The health and safety element was left to be explored in further detail at the final hearing of the application but the court recognised that any officer had the right to refuse to work in an environment where they faced immediate danger or a threat to their health and safety. The judge agreed that this came down to a question of who governs the prison by determining what regime should be operating.
In the view of Mr Justice Goss, continuing the injunction represents the application of the law, maintains the status quo and the Prison Service’s assessment of the safest manner in which to operate the prison, also taking into account the response of the Prison Officers’ Association to the original injunction in 2017.