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Latest 25 March 2021

Using the public purse to block the public interest

“All citizens are likely to have an interest in whether or not the procurement on the part of the Government is done using good governance procedures and integrity. And therefore there is a real wider public interest that has been represented by the claimant group”.

These are not our words. They are those of the Judge in our Cost Capping Hearing in the challenge against PPE contracts awarded without competition to Ayanda, Pestfix and Clandeboye.

So you can imagine our surprise when we received another letter from Government refusing to agree a cost cap in our case over the Hanbury contract. That letter seeks to revivify the argument that these are not “public interest proceedings.” Government estimates its costs to be £450k – half the value of the Hanbury contract – for a one day case.

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It’s hard to overstate quite how remarkable Government’s costs estimates are. Their own figures show that in the last 10 years 168 judicial reviews commenced cost more than £100k. This contrasts starkly with the statistic, from Government’s own figures (though not volunteered), that between 2010 and 2019, some 10,692 judicial reviews were granted permission.

Yet in each of the the five cases in which we have estimates Government’s costs have exceeded this sum: Hanbury (£450k), Public First (£500k), PPE (£1 million), Abingdon (£650k), and Unpublished Contracts (£207k). Four of these cases involve one day hearings.

Government knows that no one could rationally bear this scale of financial risk in pursuance of a public interest challenge. The cynical amongst us might wonder whether this is a deliberate attempt to misuse the bottomless public purse to put justice out of reach.

We do not intend to be bullied. We have applied to the Court for a Cost Capping Order on Hanbury. If at all possible, we will secure that the truth emerges.

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