Lane, Jackie (2017) Trade Unions, Politics and the Courtroom - Uncomfortable Bedfellows? In: Labour Law Research Network (LLRN) Conference, 25th-27th June 2017, University of Toronto, Canada. (Unpublished)

There is a long history of judges placing themselves at the centre of developments in the law which have worked to shackle trade unions; rarely have the unions been able to view the courts as allies in their struggles to protect their rights. In becoming involved in union issues, the courts have been making essentially political decisions, but is this the proper role of an independent judiciary? Should judges be allowed to remain properly apart from political decisions? In the light of recent examples of the courts being called upon to make judgments on political issues, it is timely to revisit some of those cases heard at particular periods of industrial conflict and which involved trade unions - cases where judges have found themselves embroiled in political decisions. In particular, it puts the spotlight on cases heard at the start of the twentieth century, followed by those in the 1960s and 1970s, especially those events which unfolded in the National Industrial Relations Court. These later cases came about after a long period when British judges had remained, on the whole, suitably aloof from political interference in matters concerning trade union activism. These represented a pivotal point in the narrative of judicial involvement in political decisions, reflecting the earlier judicial antipathy towards trade unions, and laying the foundation for the events of the last five decades. Consideration is also given to recent case law, to the Trade Union Act 2016, and to the potential for a return to a situation where the courts will be required to enforce a law which has little to do with justice and workers’ rights, but much to do with the political desire to emasculate the unions, an aspiration that also appears to underpin much of the case law that is examined here.

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