Last week, the High Court granted permission to advance our case against Government for its award of contracts to Abingdon Health for rapid antibody tests. The deal with Abingdon Health has been marred by controversy since the very beginning, with Government suppressing reports that raised the alarm around the effectiveness of the tests and ignoring their own legal advice on the lawfulness of the contracts.
We are pleased to announce that our judicial review with Runnymede of the Government’s practice of handing public sector jobs to its mates without open recruitment has been granted permission. We will have our day in Court.
This week’s Panorama gave us the extraordinary tale of a dog food supplier turned PPE broker bagging herself millions acting as a ‘bridge’ for a Hong Kong supplier. Details of the largest contract – worth £178m – came to light only after the BBC’s probing prompted the Government to publish.
3 days after the High Court ruled Government had acted unlawfully by failing to publish Covid contracts, Boris Johnson stood up in the House of Commons and reassured MPs and the public that all Covid-related contracts were “on the record”. However, the final Order handed down by the Judge today shows that what the Prime Minister told the House was not true.
The law of libel has been reformed to make it harder for those who say they have been defamed to win in court. But the world the law envisages is not always the real world.
In the real world, the costs of defending libel proceedings are prohibitive for all except the wealthy. And the financial stress of defending a claim can be unbearable. The consequence is that the threat of defamation proceedings can be used to harass those who seek to speak truth to wealth and power. And they can be, and are, used to force the withdrawal – and sometimes the humiliating withdrawal – of statements which are true or at the very least a reasonable opinion.
We are pleased to be able to tell you that the Court has granted a cost-capping order in our judicial review over the award of huge PPE contracts, without advertisement or competition, to Pestfix (a pest control company), Ayanda (an opaque private fund owned through a tax haven) and Clandeboye (a confectionery wholesaler).
The High Court has ruled “The Secretary of State acted unlawfully by failing to comply with the Transparency Policy” and that “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.” We have won the judicial review we brought alongside Debbie Abrahams MP, Caroline Lucas MP, and Layla Moran MP.
Correspondence from Government shows it plans to claim a staggering £500k-600k in costs for a one day hearing of a judicial review challenge to a contract awarded by Dominic Cummings to his friends at Public First. The higher figure is more than the total value of the Public First contract of £564k.
Correspondence with Government has revealed they expect to spend a staggering £1 million defending our judicial review of their decisions to award contracts criticised by the NAO. This is a sum unprecedented in our lawyers’ experience of judicial review proceedings. We can’t but wonder whether they are trying to scare us off – using the bottomless public purse to avoid accountability to the public.
The UK now has the highest COVID-19 death rate of anywhere in the world. As we try and make sense of how we got our response so wretchedly wrong, just how significant will Government’s abandonment of transparency and proper process prove to be?
Kate Bingham heads up Britain’s vaccine task force. She’s a venture capitalist with no public health experience, married to a Conservative minister. Dido Harding leads the Test and Trace system. She has no public health experience and is the wife of a Conservative MP. Mike Coupe, is head of COVID-19 testing, and has – you guessed it – no public health experience. The list goes on.