Yesterday a court ruled that Matt Hancock acted unlawfully when his department failed to publish details of COVID-19 related contracts worth billions of pounds. The BBC has the full story.
Matt Hancock acted unlawfully when his department did not reveal details of contracts it had signed during the Covid pandemic, a court has ruled.
A judge said the Health Secretary had “breached his legal obligation” by not publishing details within 30 days of contracts being signed.
The public had a right to know where the “vast” amounts spent had gone and how contracts were awarded, he added…
In his ruling, Mr Justice Chamberlain said: “There is now no dispute that, in a substantial number of cases, the Secretary of State breached his legal obligation to publish contract award notices within 30 days of the award of contracts.
“There is also no dispute that the Secretary of State failed to publish redacted contracts in accordance with the transparency policy.”
The judge said the Health Secretary had spent “vast quantities” of public money on Covid-related goods and services during 2020.
“The public were entitled see [sic] who this money was going to, what it was being spent on and how the relevant contracts were awarded,” he added.
He said this was important so that competitors of those awarded contracts could understand whether the obligations had been breached.
The judge also said publishing the details allowed bodies such as the National Audit Office, as well as Parliament and the public, to “scrutinise and ask questions about this expenditure”.
Mr Justice Chamberlain acknowledged that the situation faced by the DHSC during the first few months of the pandemic had been “unprecedented”.
He said it was “understandable that attention was focused on procuring what was thought necessary to save lives”.
But he added that the DHSC’s “historic failure” to publish details of contracts awarded during the pandemic was “an excuse, not a justification”.
Worth reading in full.
The case illustrates one of the many issues with the response to COVID-19. Yes there was an emergency, but if rules relating to procurement, transparency and the such like matter, they should also matter when the pressure is on. The case was brought by the Good Law Project, which released a statement following the ruling:
Government’s behaviour came under criticism in the judgment. If it had admitted to being in breach of the law when we first raised our concerns, it would have never been necessary to take this judicial review to its conclusion. Instead, they chose a path of obfuscation, racking up over £200,000 of legal costs as a result.
We shouldn’t be forced to rely on litigation to keep those in power honest, but in this case it’s clear that our challenge pushed Government to comply with its legal obligations. Judge Chamberlain stated that the admission of breach by Government was “secured as a result of this litigation and at a late stage of it” and “I have no doubt that this claim has speeded up compliance”. It begs the question, if we hadn’t brought this legal challenge, what other contract details would have remained hidden from view? …
This judgment, which can be found here, is a victory for all of us concerned with proper governance and proof of the power of litigation to hold Government to account. But there is still a long way to go before the Government’s house is in order. We have now written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care detailing what needs to be done to improve procurement processes and ensure value for British taxpayers.
The letter from the Good Law Project to Matt Hancock is here.