Failed holiday pay challenge costs PSNI £1.12 million in legal fees

Lawyers previously estimated the judgment could cost the police £40 million

Liam Kelly, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland
Liam Kelly, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (Peter Morrison/PA)

The PSNI has spent more than £1.12 million on legal fees in a failed action around officers’ holidays which ultimately ended up in the Supreme Court.

Rule changes introduced a number of years ago mean that regular overtime worked by civil servants, and other additional payments accrued on top of their basic salary, should be factored in when setting holiday pay rates.

A cap limiting the retrospective claim-back period in Britain was not replicated by previous Stormont administrations.

An original industrial tribunal ruled in 2018 in favour of a group representing more than 3,700 PSNI officers and civilian staff that they were owed money for a shortfall in holiday pay dating back 20 years.

The Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland upheld that ruling in 2019.

Former PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne took the case to the Supreme Court, but Lady Rose dismissed the appeal late last year.

A Freedom of Information request has now revealed that the PSNI incurred legal costs of £752,910.30, paid for the challenge in Northern Ireland courts, with a further £368,514.10 in respect of the Supreme Court.

That figure does not include VAT or legal costs awarded against the PSNI.

On top of that is the vast pay-out to officers affected, which is also expected to be in the region of £30m.

Liam Kelly, Chairman of the Police Federation, said the legal costs figures were “staggering”.

“Being as cash-strapped as they are, the PSNI can ill-afford a legal bill exceeding £1.12million,” he said.

“With the original tribunal still to adjudicate on rectifying this matter, and the expected award of damages, a significantly larger bill for the PSNI will be coming in the future.

“The associated legal costs could have effectively been avoided had the PSNI engaged productively with the Police Federation prior to this legal action being taken.”

The PSNI was asked why the case was taken to the lengths it was.

In response, a spokesperson replied: “This matter was referred to the UK Supreme Court (UKSC) to determine arguable points of law that were identified as being of greatest importance for the whole of the United Kingdom.

“The PSNI acknowledges the findings of the UKSC. If there was no prospect of success, the UKSC would typically not have accepted the case for determination.

“Proceedings remain extant. Legal fees are yet to be determined, and as such it would not be appropriate for us to comment further.”

The Policing Board said it had expressed general concern about increasing legal costs incurred by the force “in a range of civil and other litigation actions taken against the PSNI”.