Our client Good Law Project wins government contract judicial review
Our client Good Law Project has won its judicial review against the government’s decision to award a contract for “communication and focus group” services to the agency Public First, without any competition, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the judgment, handed down on 9 June 2021, the High Court declared that the decision to award the contract to Public First gave rise to apparent bias and was unlawful.
A total of £564,394 was paid out under the six-month contract. The agency’s directors have close personal and professional connections to former special advisor to the Prime Minister Dominic Cummings and to Michael Gove, Minister for the Cabinet Office.
Giving judgment, Mrs Justice O’Farrell concluded that:
“the existence of personal connections between the Defendant [Minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove], Mr Cummings and the directors of Public First was a relevant circumstance that might be perceived to compromise their impartiality and independence in the context of a public procurement…
“the Defendant’s failure to consider any other research agency, by reference to experience, expertise, availability or capacity, would lead a fair minded and informed observer to conclude that there was a real possibility, or a real danger, that the decision-maker was biased.”
The government had asked the Court to reject the claim on the grounds that Good Law Project did not have “standing” – that is, sufficient interest in the matter under challenge – to bring the claim. Rejecting this argument, the Judge found that:
“[Good Law Project] is a non-governmental organisation with expertise and experience in holding the Government to account in respect of its public procurement decisions. It has a sincere interest in promoting good public administration, including compliance with the PCR 2015 and lawful conduct of the public procurement regime. It has no ulterior motive in pursuing the challenge.”
The government had estimated that their costs of defending the claim in a one-day hearing in February 2021 would amount to £600,000 – more than the entire amount paid under the contract – and argued that Good Law Project should pay their costs if the claim failed. Good Law Project will now seek an order that the government pay their costs of bringing the claim.
Find out more about the case and support Good Law Project’s work here.
9 June 2021
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