Boris Johnson’s government has been called out for Tory cronyism after the High Court ruled that former Health Secretary Matt Hancock broke the law when he appointed Conservative peer Dido Harding to a top job during the Covid pandemic.
Two judges ruled that Hancock, who resigned in disgrace over breaching lockdown rules, did not comply with a public sector equality duty when he appointed Harding as interim chair of the National Institute for Health Protection in August 2020
The judges also found that appointing former Sainsbury’s boss Mike Coupe as director of testing at NHS test and trace a month later was also illegal.
The Runnymede Trust, an independent race equality think tank, won a High Court fight after complaining about Government appointments made during the pandemic.
“The judgment handed down today by the High Court is incredibly significant to the British people,” said Dr Halima Begum, the trust’s chief executive.
“It shows the importance of the public sector equality duty and its role in protecting the people of this nation from the closed shop of Government appointments, not least in a time of national crisis where people from our minority communities were dying from Covid in hugely disproportionate numbers.
“This case should never have required litigation given how self-evident it is that compliance with the law does not allow members of the executive to simply appoint their friends to senior public sector jobs without giving, at a bare minimum, due consideration to the Equality Act.”
Campaign group the Good Law Project took legal action alongside the trust, against Hancock and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and the former Health Secretary said he was delighted to have won on that part of the case.
The Good Law Project complained about other appointments and argued the Government had not adopted an “open” process when making appointments to posts “critical to the pandemic response”, but judges dismissed the claim.
Lawyers representing the two organizations suggested people “outside the tight circle” in which senior Conservative politicians and their friends moved were not being given opportunities.
A spokesman for Hancock said: “Claims of ‘apparent bias’ and ‘indirect discrimination’ have been quashed and thrown out by the High Court.
“What the judgment does make clear is that ‘the claim brought by the Good Law Project fails in its entirety’, therefore highlighting the fact this group continues to waste the court’s time.
“The court judgment also states that ‘the evidence provides no support… at all’ for the allegation that Dido Harding secured senior positions on the basis of ‘personal or political connections’ in the Government.”
The spokesman added: “Let’s not forget, we were dealing with an unprecedented global pandemic, where time was of the essence in order to protect and save lives.”
Hancock resigned as Health Secretary last year after admitting to breaching his own Covid guidelines by kissing an aid in his office.
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