Press Release -  Government summoned to High Court

by Dr. Ros Altmann

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Sir Andrew Collins, a leading judge, has ordered the Government to appear in the High Court on Tuesday 5th December at 10am.  He is demanding a ‘full explanation’ as to why they have not managed to submit any defence against the Judicial Review by 22nd November, as required by law.  The DWP has effectively disqualified itself from the case, but seemed to assume that it could simply file its defence in its own time, rather than complying with the directions of the Court.  

The Pensions Action Group lawyers, Bindman and Co, wrote to the Government to explain that failure to file the defence on time will prejudice the claimants’ case and that it cannot just delay without even giving any reason.  The DWP solicitors ignored this and informed the High Court that it intends to file its defence by 13th December, saying ‘The Defendant does not believe that there will be any prejudice to the Claimants’. 

Having clearly explained why the delay will be prejudicial, Bindmans wrote to the High Court to demand that this extension of time should not be granted.  Mr. Justice Collins appears to have been less than impressed with the Government’s attitude and has summoned them to appear before him on Tuesday to explain themselves.

Mr. Justice Collins says as follows:
‘I shall require a full explanation why the  35 day time limit was not met…The rules are there to be obeyed and an application to extend time should have been made before it expired…simply announcing that there would be non-compliance is hardly acceptable.’

Ros Altmann, advocate for the Claimants, says:  ‘The Government’s attitude to the victims in this important case is symptomatic of its behaviour in this whole issue.  It believes that it can behave as it likes, ignore the rules that everyone else has to live by and even when clearly told that its actions will be prejudicial to the Claimants, the Government simply says it does not believe this.  Indeed, the Government is still threatening the Claimants with unlimited costs and has ignored all requests to explain this threat. 

Fortunately, the Judge is standing up to the DWP and clearly stating that such behaviour is unacceptable.  We will be in the High Court at 10am on Tuesday, to hear what the judge decides about the future of the Judicial Review and whether the Government can participate.

John Halford, a Partner at Bindmans solicitors represents the Pensioners added:
“The Department’s approach to this case is astonishing. It appears to believe it can ignore not only the impact its actions have on tens of thousands of pensioners, but also the court rules and the directions made by the judge who granted permission for this important test case to proceed. On the face of things, it appears to be scraping the bottom of a very empty barrel for legal arguments to support its morally indefensible position.”

For further information contact Dr. Ros Altmann on 07799 404747

ENDS
Notes for editors:

This Judicial Review has been launched on behalf of up to 125,000 victims who have lost the pensions which Government assured them were actually safe and protected by law.  Following Ministers’ unprecedented rejection of the unequivocal, independent verdict of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, and the Public Administration Select Committee, the victims launched a case in the High Court in June 2006. 

The Parliamentary Ombudsman concluded that Government maladministration, policy decisions and lax oversight of pension protection caused over 100,000 UK citizens to lose some or all of the pensions they were relying on for their retirement security.  Many of them have lost their entire life savings and even their state pensions too.   They are being forced to fight on for justice.

Ros Altmann, independent pensions expert and advocate for the victims says ‘It is so dreadfully sad that we are now being forced to pursue legal remedies.  Many of those affected just do not have much time.  Some are terminally ill and in despair.  The reason we appealed to the Parliamentary Ombudsman in the first place was to avoid lengthy and expensive litigation.  Having waited 16 months and obtained clear, independent evidence of Government’s responsibility for this scandal, having seen many people die before the verdict without getting their pensions back, we are still facing more fighting.  What do we have to do to make our Government behave properly?’ 

There are supposed to be safeguards to prevent such things happening, but our Government seems to think it is above the law.  Even when faced with the devastating evidence of the consequences of its own carelessness and maladministration, Ministers area trying to deny responsibility and blame everyone else but themselves. 

Government carelessly misled these people into believing their retirement income was secure, endorsed the employers’ pension promises, allowed state pension rights to be transferred into these ‘approved’ employer schemes, did not allow them to have any other pension and yet deliberately decided not to warn them that these pensions were not properly protected.   Any private company which misled people in this way – promoting the benefits of an investment without mentioning the risks – would be forced by Government rules to compensate in full.  The same rules must apply to the Government itself.

This scandal is far worse than Maxwell.  Maxwells 32,000 pensioners were rescued, but here over 100,000 people are being denied their pensions because Government won’t admit its mistakes.  Since 1997, the Chancellor has taken billions of pounds out of these pension schemes every year, yet for some reason, this Labour Government refuses to accept the need to restore these people’s pensions and is trying to pretend it has no responsibility.  It is a desperately sad time for our democracy to see this Government treating hard-working citizens and the Parliamentary process in this cavalier fashion. 
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