LECTURERS' union Natfhe is pressing ahead with its High Court challenge to Government plans to change early retirement rules. The union was expected to seek leave to apply for judicial review of the Government's plans to reform the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme (TSS) in the High Court today.
A hearing, if leave is granted, would almost inevitably be held after the general election. But even if Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, is no longer in post the union says that there is still a legal precedent to be established with regard to the scope of ministerial powers. Natfhe has obtained counsel's opinion that Mrs Shephard's proposal to transfer the cost liability for early retirement from the TSS to employers, including new universities and further education colleges, may be in breach of the 1972 Superannuation Act.
Union solicitor Michael Scott wrote to Mrs Shephard last month informing her of the legal challenge and asking for a response by March 21.
Mrs Shephard's department complied, reiterating its position and informing Natfhe that it would resist a judicial review application. A letter sent from the department to Mr Scott stated: "The department does not believe that there is any merit or sub-stance in the arguments advanced in your letter. The secretary of state does not intend to reconsider her proposals.
"In the light of this, you will not be surprised to learn that the department would strenuously oppose any application ... for leave to apply for judicial review."
It is the Government's second legal challenge regarding the proposed TSS reforms. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers' challenge forced Mrs Shephard to make certain clarifications regarding early retirements which led to the ATL dropping its action.