Challenging government contracts awarded without competition and ‘discriminatory’ public appointments – update on our work with Good Law Project
We’re instructed by the campaigning organisation Good Law Project in several cases challenging decisions by the government to award high-value contracts without competition, and a case alleging discrimination in the government’s appointment of key figures to public posts during the pandemic.
Good Law Project succeeded in its challenge to the government’s decision to award a high-value contract to the lobbying firm Public First, without any competition, on 9 June 2021. The High Court declared that the decision to award the contract to Public First – at a total cost of £564,394 – gave rise to apparent bias and was unlawful. Following an appeal by the government, the decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal on 18 January 2022. Good Law Project have applied to the Supreme Court for permission to appeal the judgment. A second case, challenging the award of a contract for public opinion polling without competition, worth £900,000, will be heard in due course.
A six-day hearing took place in May 2021 in which Good Law Project and our client EveryDoctor challenged the government’s decision to award PPE contracts of over £700million without any ordinary competitive procurement process, including the government’s use of a ‘High Priority’ or ‘VIP’ Lane established solely for the purpose of prioritising referrals from government officials, ministers’ offices and MPs. The High Court found that the operation of the ‘VIP Lane’ breached the government’s obligation to treat offers equally, and was illegal.
Judgment was handed down on 15 February 2022 in a judicial review brought by Good Law Project and our client Runnymede Trust, the UK’s leading Race Equality think tank, relating to key appointments to public sector roles, without open competition or recruitment. The High Court concluded that the appointment of Dido Harding as Head of the National Instutute for Health Protection and the appointment of Mike Coupe to NHS Test and Trace did not comply with the public sector equality duty. Our clients had argued that operating closed recruitment processes was discriminatory, breached the public sector equality duty, and gave rise to apparent bias. They were particularly concerned that the lack of fair or open competitive recruitment processes for these appointments disadvantaged people from minority groups, who are already under-represented within the senior civil service.
A final hearing took place in May 2022 in Good Law Project to challenge the award of contracts to Abingdon Health for the manufacture and supply of rapid Covid-19 antibody tests, worth up to £87.5million, without competition; following a failure to obtain the necessary approval for home-use, the contract was cancelled. In a series of interim hearings the High Court ordered the Government to search Matt Hancock’s personal emails and WhatsApp messages, and for former Health Minister Lord Bethell to file evidence about his mobile phone, which was used to conduct government business with Abingdon Health. Judgment is awaited.
Finally, our claim challenging the government’s policies and practices relating to the use of personal email accounts for government business was unsuccessful, but the Divisional Court has granted permission to appeal that decision, and we await a hearing date in the Court of Appeal.
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