The ruling that former Health Secretary Matt Hancock failed to comply with a public sector equality duty when making appointments during the pandemic is ‘incredibly significant’, the boss says. a think tank.
The Runnymede Trust, an independent racial equality think tank, won a High Court fight after complaining about government appointments being made during the pandemic.
Two judges ruled Mr Hancock failed to comply with a public sector equality duty when appointing his Tory counterpart Baroness Dido Harding and Mike Coupe, a former colleague of Baroness Harding , to positions in 2020.
Respect for the law does not allow members of the executive to simply appoint their friends to high-level positions in the public sector without regard, at a minimum, to the Equality Act
Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Swift granted a statement to the Runnymede Trust on Tuesday after considering arguments at a hearing in the High Court in December.
The judges concluded that Mr Hancock failed to comply with the ‘public sector equality duty’ in relation to decisions to appoint Baroness Harding as acting executive chairwoman of the National Institute of Health Protection (NIHP) in August 2020, and Mr Coupe as Director of Testing for NHS Test and Trace (NHSTT) in September 2020.
“Today’s judgment by the High Court is incredibly important to the British people,” said Dr Halima Begum, chief executive of the trust.
“It shows the importance of the public sector’s duty to equality and its role in protecting the citizens of this nation from the monopoly of government appointments, especially at a time of national crisis where members of our minority communities were dying of Covid in extremely disproportionate proportions. Numbers.
“This case should never have required litigation given how obvious it is that respect for the law does not allow members of the executive to simply appoint their friends to high positions in the public sector without give, at the bare minimum, due attention to equality. Act.”
Campaign group Good Law Project took legal action alongside the trust, against Mr Hancock and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and the former health secretary said he was delighted to have won in that part of the case.
The Good Law Project has complained about other appointments and argued that the government has failed to adopt an ‘open’ process when appointing to posts ‘essential to the pandemic response’, but the judges have dismissed the complaint.
Lawyers representing the two organizations suggested that people ‘outside the inner circle’ in which senior Tory politicians and their cronies moved had no opportunities.
The ministers disputed the claims against them.
Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Swift said in a written decision: ‘It is the process leading to the two decisions which has been found by this court to breach the public sector equality duty.
“For these reasons, we will grant a statement to the Runnymede Trust that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has failed to comply with the public sector equality duty in relation to decisions to appoint Baroness Harding as Acting Executive Chair of the NIHP in August 2020 and Mr Coupe as Director of Testing for the NHSTT in September 2020.”
A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said: ‘The allegations of ‘apparent bias’ and ‘indirect discrimination’ have been quashed and dismissed by the High Court.
“What the judgment makes clear is that ‘the lawsuit filed by the Good Law Project fails in its entirety’, underscoring the fact that this group continues to waste the court’s time.
“The court judgment also says that ‘the evidence does not support…at all’ the allegation that Dido Harding obtained senior positions on the basis of ‘personal or political connections’ in government.
“They admit that these were ‘urgent recruitment processes that required finding highly specialized, experienced and available candidates in a short period of time’.
“Let’s not forget that we were facing an unprecedented global pandemic, where time was running out to protect and save lives.”
Jo Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, said: “Change doesn’t happen, things don’t get better for those who are disadvantaged, unless those in power.
“That means they have to make sure they ask themselves ‘How can I level society for people with disabilities and ethnic minorities?’
“And that means taking the time to find the best people – not the best-connected people – for the job.”
The Good Law Project describes itself as a “nonprofit campaign organization that uses the law to protect the interests of the public.”
A statement on the organization’s website reads, “We fight cases that defend, define or change the law and we use litigation to engage and educate. We challenge abuse of power, exploitation, inequality and injustice.
The organization has filed a number of claims against the government, including a victory in the High Court in 2021, after challenging the government’s alleged failures to comply with procurement legislation and policy in regarding contracts for goods and services awarded after the start of the pandemic.