The Government has won a High Court injunction against a strike by thousands of prison officers amid claims jails are “in meltdown”.
It was granted after Mr Justice Kerr heard an urgent application for the injunction to “restrain” the Prison Officers Association from “inducing any form of industrial action”.
Daniel Stilitz QC, for the Ministry of Justice, told the judge that “injunctive relief” was being sought against the POA, which was “liable as a trade union for its unlawful inducement”.
Stuart Brittenden, counsel for the union, said: “The POA's position is that the Secretary of State is in breach of their contract in failing to provide a safe place and a system of work, and as such, any instruction to them to continue working in those conditions in this environment is an unlawful one.”
The judge's order will have immediate effect with prison officers expected to return to work “forthwith”.
He said it was a “very urgent” application with evidence of up to 80 per cent of staff taking some sort ot action in the majority of prisons. “A number of incidents have occurred in prisons today and the situation is very concerning indeed”.
The Ministry of Justice took the step to seek the injunction after the union directed members to protest after talks over health and safety concerns broke down.
Justice Secretary Liz Truss called the union's position “unnecessary and unlawful” and it “will make the situation in our prisons more dangerous”.
Ms Truss said the Government is “absolutely committed” to giving prison officers and governors the support they need to do their job and keep them safe.
Up to 10,000 staff were expected to take part in the protest, which comes after a string of high profile incidents at prisons, including a riot and the escape of two inmates.
Two prisoners escaped from Pentonville prison in north London earlier this month - sparking a manhunt in which they were eventually recaptured.
Weeks earlier, inmate Jamal Mahmoud, 21, died after being stabbed at the jail on October 18 in an attack which left two others injured. And on November 6, up to 200 prisoners went on a rampage in HMP Bedford.
Announcing the move, the union said the “continued surge in violence and unprecedented levels of suicide and acts of self harm”, coupled with the recent alleged murder and escapes “demonstrate that the service is in meltdown”.
About 60 guards gathered in the car park within the gates of Pentonville. Dave Todd, POA representative for London, Kent, Surrey and Sussex, said conditions in prisons were “volatile and dangerous”.
Derek Stanton, a committee member of the Manchester POA, said: “I have been in this job for 28 years, this is the most dangerous I have ever seen it.”
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said: “This Tory Government is failing to address a prisons violence crisis which is leaving staff and prisoners in a dangerous situation.”
Tory former Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said the action was “quite irresponsible” - but warned the situation in prisons was “scandalous”.
He told BBC Radio 4's The World at One programme: “Staff shortages play into it but you have also got to look at why we have got quite so many prisoners there.
“We incarcerate a bigger proportion of our population than anybody else in Europe and it hasn't had any noticeable affect on our crime levels compared to anybody else's.”
Earlier this month Ms Truss unveiled her blueprint for prison reform - including a recruitment drive to add 2,500 new officers and “no fly zones” to stop drones dropping drugs and other contraband into jail grounds.
Press Association contributed to this report