The High Court has ruled, on challenges made to it by the Runnymede Trust and the Good Law Project, that the government violated equality law for appointments made early in the covid pandemic.
Conservative peer Baroness Dido Harding, and former Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe were appointed by then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Harding was appointed as interim Chief Executive of the National Institute for Health Protection, while Mr Coupe was made Director of Testing at NHS Test and Trace.
The judges for the case ruled that the appointments did not comply with the 2010 Equality Act. It was found that the defendants failed to provide evidence that they fulfilled their duty to public sector equality when making the appointments.
Jason Coppel led the case brought forward by the Runnymede Trust and the Good Law Project. He argued that candidates less likely to be known or connected to decision-makers were put at a disadvantage.
The accusation brought forwards by the Good Law Project, that the government was not sufficiently open with their appointment process, was dismissed by the court.
Lord Justice Singh and Justice Swift, the judges for the case, stated:
“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 the Runnymede Trust said:
“Neither Baroness Harding nor Mr Coupe is medically trained. Neither has a lifetime of public administration under their belt. It should not be acceptable to drop our standards during complex health emergencies when countless lives are at stake, in particular the lives of some of our country’s most vulnerable citizens.”
“This judgment sends a strong message to the government that it needs to take its obligations to reduce inequality far more seriously. It also serves as an unequivocal reminder that all future public appointments must give due consideration to equalities legislation.”
A spokesperson for 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.”
The judgement also stated that the prime minister was wrongly sued in the case, and that the responsibility fell with the former health secretary.