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Matt Hancock broke rules over appointments of Test and Trace chiefs, High Court rules
15 February 2022, 12:02 | Updated: 15 February 2022, 12:46
The former UK health secretary Matt Hancock broke equality rules when Conservative peer Baroness Dido Harding and ex-Sainsbury colleague Mike Coupe were appointed to senior posts in the Covid-19 response, the High Court has found.
Two judges have ruled that then health secretary Matt Hancock did not comply with a public sector equality duty in relation to the two appointments in 2020.
They granted a declaration to the Runnymede Trust on Tuesday after considering arguments at a High Court hearing in December.
Campaign group the Good Law Project joined the trust in making complaints - arguing that the Government had not adopted an "open" process when making appointments to posts "critical to the pandemic response" - but their claim was dismissed.
Judges concluded that Mr Hancock had not complied with "the public sector equality duty" in relation to the decisions to appoint Baroness Harding as interim executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection in August 2020 and Mr Coupe as director of testing for NHS Test and Trace in September 2020.
Lawyers representing the two organisations suggested that people "outside the tight circle" in which senior Conservative politicians and their friends moved were not being given opportunities. They said an unfair policy was being challenged.
Ministers disputed the claims made against them.
Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Swift said in a written ruling: "It is the process leading up to the two decisions which has been found by this court to be in breach of the public sector equality duty.
"For those reasons we will grant a declaration to the Runnymede Trust that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care did not comply with the public sector equality duty in relation to the decisions how to appoint Baroness Harding as interim executive chair of the NIHP in August 2020 and Mr Coupe as director of testing for NHSTT in September 2020."
A spokesperson for Matt Hancock said: "We're delighted the department has won yet another court case against the discredited Good Law Project. Claims of 'apparent bias' and 'indirect discrimination' have been quashed and thrown out by the High Court.
"What the judgement does make clear is that 'the claim brought by 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.
"They accept these 'were urgent recruitment processes which needed to find highly specialised, experienced and available candidates within a short space of time.'
"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."