The Hendy-man can
11 November 2009 | Updated: 11 November 2009 1:56 pm | By Katy Dowell
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When he stood down as head of Old Square chambers in April John Hendy QC was hoping his workload would lighten slightly.
But, because he is the silk of choice for Britain’s leading trade unions, including Unite and the Communication Workers Union (CWU), things have been anything but quiet (27 April 2009).
Instructed by Steve Cottingham, a partner from trade union firm OH Parsons & Partners, Hendy was in the High Court last week (5 November) trying to get an injunction against British Airways (BA) on behalf of Unite. He had been asked to try to stop BA imposing new contracts on 14,000 cabin crew.
“The central issue,” Hendy told the court, “is whether, if BA imposes its new schedule on 16 November, it’ll be breaching its contract of employment with its cabin crew.”
Mr Justice Butterfield refused to enact the injunction, but said the court would examine whether BA had indeed breached its own employment contracts. Hendy is due back in court on 1 February to argue the case on behalf of Unite.
Coincidently, Hendy- who once worked as a postman to help pay his tuition fees - was due back in court last Friday (6 November) to appear on behalf of the CWU. It wanted to bring an injunction against Royal Mail to stop it using 30,000 agency workers to clear a backlog of work. The union called off the action at the last minute, because an interim agreement was reached and the High Court was no longer needed.
With the recession creating a battleground ripe for litigation between employees and employers, such actions could be a mark of things to come.
“There’s more prominence in industrial action,” Hendy comments. “Workers are feeling aggrieved at the moment. They see bankers getting their bonuses and they’re threatened with redundancy.”
Employment work is suddenly booming and trade union actions are becoming increasingly prominent.
Hendy, whose father was a trade union activist, got into the market at a young age. He did a masters in trade union law in 1971. Since he began practising, Hendy reflects, the legal issues facing the sector have changed annually. Such changes are influenced by social policy and the politics of the day.
When Hendy joined Old Square it was purely a personal injury (PI) set and this practice area is still its mainstay today. Earlier this year, Old Square silk David Wilby QC won a High Court case against Corby Borough Council on behalf of victims of toxic pollution (see story). The set is also home to leading PI silk Barry Cotter QC.
Today, Old Square is also known for its employment credentials. Hendy helped shape the employment practice and moved it into the trade union sphere. He is currently chair of the Institute of Employment Rights, a group that fights for fairer employment rights and that counts many trade union general secretaries as members.
“I’ve always been happy to help with union education and campaigns,” Hendy says of his involvement, adding that as sophisticated legal users the unions “have a strategic understanding of taking cases on”.
As a champion of workers’ rights, he is also regularly instructed on medical negligence cases. His caseload in this area exploded when in the mid-80s he successfully acted for consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Wendy Savage when she was wrongfully suspended from practice for alleged incompetence.
It is an area he is still pioneering today. Earlier this year, Hendy set a new precedent by forcing the NHS to provide legal representation for doctors in disciplinary hearings. The implications are still being discussed by the NHS.
With so much employment dissatisfaction in both the public and private sector, Hendy’s hope for a quiet life has been dashed by his own sense of social responsibility.