Union loses MoD job cuts challenge

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A union today lost a High Court legal challenge over the financial terms on which the Ministry of Defence is said to be seeking to cut the jobs of around 5,000 civilian staff.

The action was brought by Prospect, which represents 16,000 defence professionals, claiming that the terms offered to staff were "unlawful".

But their case was rejected today by Mr Justice Wyn William in London.

The union has said previously that whatever the outcome of case it will have a "major impact across the Civil Service".

Announcing his decision, the judge said he had "reached the clear conclusion that this claim for judicial review must fail".

During the recent hearing of the claim, Prospect's QC, Gavin Millar, told the judge that the judicial review application - contested on behalf of the Secretary of State for Defence - related to "a scheme for early release of substantial numbers of staff in the Ministry of Defence".

The challenge was brought over the decision to call for volunteers from affected groups of staff for selection for release on "flexible" early retirement or severance terms.

The union had sought a declaration from the court that the early release scheme (ERS) was "unlawful", arguing that the MoD should pay out under the "more generous" compulsory early retirement or severance (CER) terms.

In March the MoD published an ERS document inviting staff who wished to apply for early release on either FER or CER terms to apply by 2 May, indicating that the selection panel results were expected to be issued in September.

The MoD argued that the offers it has made to its employees under the early release scheme were "properly made" within the the terms of the Civil Service management code and the Civil Service compensation scheme.

It said it was not prevented "as a matter of public law from offering employees particular terms on which they can, if they wish, apply to leave the MoD's service early".

Hugh Tomlinson QC, for the Secretary of State, told the judge during the hearing that management had the "flexibility to agree retirement terms with volunteers in order to achieve efficiency objectives and to make the best use of public money".

The judge said the evidence was clear that the "shedding of jobs is inextricably bound up with the efficiency of the department and organisational changes within it".

His understanding, he said, was that approximately 3,000 individuals had volunteered for early retirement or severance following publication of the scheme. Of those, around 900 applied for release under the flexible terms.

The judge ruled that the MoD did not act unlawfully when it published its document entitled MoD Early Release Scheme 2008.