Good Law Project and Runnymede Trust send pre-action letter over appointment of head of National Institute for Health Protection

The Good Law Project is seeking to raise £100,000 for a legal challenge to the appointment of Baroness Harding to head the National Institute for Health Protection.

Its Crowd Justice page has so far raised £65,601 from 2,980 people. It is working with the race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust.

According to the project, Baroness Harding is married to a Conservative MP, is a personal friend of former prime minister David Cameron and was handed the job without any search for other candidates.

A pre-action letter said it appeared she had been appointed by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock.

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But this letter was additionally sent to the Prime Minister, saying it was unclear how and by whom the appointment was made - and whether Mr Hancock was in fact responsible - and that he was ultimately responsible for the government’s actions.

It also questioned the appointment to the institute of Mike Coupe, former chief executive of Sainsbury’s, and another former executive of the retailer Gareth Williams.

Both posts appeared to fall outside rules on public appointments and civil service recruitment, it said.

The Crowd Justice page said: “[Baroness Harding is] not the only one to land a top job this way. Each week it seems another individual secures a role of vital public importance without any advertisement or fair process - and very often that individual has personal and political connections to Government.” 

It added: “This Government's approach discriminates against those born without a silver spoon in their mouth. It’s unfair to those who don’t rub shoulders with high-ranking ministers. And it’s unfair to groups who the data shows are shut out of public life.”

Two legal arguments would be raised in a judicial review: that recruitment without open competition is indirect discrimination on grounds of, in particular, race and disability, contrary to the Equality Act 2010; and the Government appears to have breached its public sector equality duty in s.149 of the Equality Act 2010 in filling senior public sector roles without paying due regard to the impact of its recruitment approach on those with protected characteristics.

Good Law Project has instructed Jason Coppel QC and Hannah Slarks of 11KBW Chambers and Rook Irwin Sweeney both of whom it said would “work considerably below market rates”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “To build the biggest testing system per head of population of all the major countries in Europe as rapidly as we have, the skills and expertise of both public and private sector partners are required.

“The number of people directly employed by the Civil Service working on NHS Test and Trace is increasing and it’s thanks to the work of many partners that we now have more than 500 testing sites across the UK and rising, and an expanding network of major laboratories processing hundreds of thousands of tests every single day.”

The Department said Baroness Harding was appointed by ministers and was not paid in the post, which was temporary while recruitment for the permanent role took place.

Mark Smulian

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