Date set for blacklisting supertrial as compensation scheme appoints judge

The High Court in London yesterday agreed to combine four legal cases brought on behalf of workers who appeared on a blacklist to which many of the UK’s largest contractors subscribed. The group litigation order means there will be a single case in which some 225 workers are claiming damages from 35 companies. 

The case will now proceed to a hearing in October with a further hearing pencilled in for in December.

The cases will be managed by a steering committee, composed of the solicitors acting for UCATT, Unite and the GMB and the Blacklist Support Group. 

Meanwhile, eight of the major contractors who are defendants in the litigation are continuing with the compensation scheme they launched last Friday. This offers a fast-track, out-of-court settlement to workers who do not wish to take part in a class action. 

The scheme has different levels of payment, depending on how much the claimant is thought to have suffered by being blacklisted. The minimum payment for simply appearing on the list is £4,000. Workers who can prove economic loss may stand to gain £20,000, and those who suffered serious damage to their livelihoods over a long period of time may get as much as £100,000.

Workers who are claiming the maximum settlement will have their claims assessed on an individual basis. Yesterday, the scheme’s organisers announced that the level of damages would be decided by by Sir Colin McKay, a retired High Court judge. Sir Colin was chosen for his perceived toughness with contractors, a reputation he earned by fining Balfour Beatty £10m for negligence after the Hatfield rail crash.

Keith Doherty, a solicitor with Guney, Clark & Ryan, criticised the decision of the contractors to launch their scheme without the co-operation or knowledge of the victims; representatives. He pointed out the Scottish Affairs committee of the House of Commons, which has conducted a long running investigation into the blacklisting scandal, recommended that no compensation scheme be launched without the consent of all parties.  

A long fight

The struggle to find legal remedies for individuals who appeared on the blacklist has, so far, taken five years. 

The initial attempts to gain compensation through claims for unfair dismissal at industrial tribunals, however many of these proved to be time-barred, and in other cases it was found that no compensation was possible if workers were not directly employed by a company using the blacklist, which almost none were. Those cases that were successful led to low levels of damages. 

The present legal process did not begin until 2012, when Guney, Clark & Ryan, acting for the Blacklist Support Group, began a case against Sir Robert McAlpine and its director Cullum McAlpine, for "conspiracy to blacklist". 

Many other contractors became involved in the case, when Sir Robert McAlpine responded to the initial claim by adding 34 other defendants to the action, including nine major contractors. The construction unions GMB, Ucatt and Unite launched their cases the following year, four years after the existence of the blacklist was discovered. 

The cases amalgamated in the group litigation order were as follows:

  • The Blacklist Support Group was suing Sir Robert McAlpine and Cullum McAlpine
  • The GMB was suing Sir Robert McAlpine and Carillion
  • Ucatt was suing: Sir Robert McAlpine, Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Bam, CB&I, Costain, Laing O’Rourke, Lend Lease, Skanska and Vinci
  • Unite was suing: Sir Robert McAlpine, Balfour Beatty, Crown House Technologies, Kier, Laing O’Rourke and Skanska
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