RCN legal advice on ‘unregistered trade union’ Nurses United leaked

The document suggests that the organisations may benefit from “joint-working” where they have the “same aims”.

Matt Bodell
11 December 2020
RCN website

The union sought advice from a prominent London law firm.

A leaked document from inside the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) reveals the draft legal advice the union received over the grassroots campaigning group Nurses United UK (NU).


Earlier this month the College made the controversial decision to prevent some senior members of NU from holding key positions within the union citing legal advice concluding that the organisation was an “unregistered trade union”.

A leaked draft legal opinion gathered by RCN from the prominent London law firm Bates Wells reads; “In our view, it is likely that NU is a “political organisation” and/or involvement with it comprises “political activity”, on the grounds that it exists to affect political policy – so activity in support of its objectives is political activity as those objectives are inherently political.”

The document even suggests that the organisations may benefit from “joint-working” where the RCN and NU have the “same aims”.

Although, the legal firm does identify that membership to NU is “a registrable interest for Members of Council or Boards, external advisers and senior staff”.



An RCN spokesperson confirmed the document is authentic and said it was “regrettable” it had been made public. They said; “It is right that Council examines the relationship between the RCN and new organisations in our field, and this decision is consistent with our policies and practice in this area.

“Members serving on Council are presented with many forms of advice and take informed decisions on that basis.

“It is regrettable that individual documents have been put into the public domain without the context of the discussion. That said, Council acted on the external advice it received that Nurses United meets the definition of an ‘unregistered trade union’.”

Former Assistant General Secretary of the RCN, now Convenor for Nurses United UK, Tom Bolger responded to the document; “As a longstanding RCN member and the current Convenor of Nurses United it was very disappointing to read the RCN’s legal advice which was shown to me for comment today.


“Their advice clearly shows what we already knew, Nurses United is a political organisation.

“We will continue to build power with everyone who wants to achieve a restorative 15% pay rise, create an anti-racist NHS and ensure that all essential workers can access adequate PPE.”

Correction (11/12/2020 22:35): Since publication, NursingNotes has been made aware that this is an early draft of legal advice that was never shared with Council. A complete report was given to Council in November which is not included