Matt Hancock broke law in key Covid appointments, High Court rules

Baroness Dido Harding and Mike Coupe were both appointed to key roles in August and September 2020 respectively

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The High Court has found that former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Prime Minister Boris Johnson acted unlawfully when they appointed Baroness Dido Harding as interim executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection and Mike Coupe as director of testing for NHS Test and Trace in 2020.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock listens to Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) during a Cabinet meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock listens to Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) during a Cabinet meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London.

Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Swift 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 and Mr Coupe.

Baroness Dido Harding, Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace.
Baroness Dido Harding, Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace.

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.

Jason Coppel QC, who led the two organisations’ legal teams, told Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Swift that the challenge was based on equality legislation and public law.

He said the Government had a “policy or practice” of “making appointments to posts critical to the pandemic response” without adopting any, or any sufficient, “fair or open competitive processes”.

Mr Coppel said people “less likely to be known or connected to decision-makers” were put at a disadvantage.

He also said the Government was failing to offer “remuneration for high-level full-time roles” and “excluding all candidates who were not already wealthy” or held other posts for which they would continue to be paid.