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Case update 15 February 2022

BREAKING: High Court rules Dido Harding and Mike Coupe appointments were unlawful

In a landmark verdict, the High Court has today found that the process leading to the appointments of both Dido Harding and Mike Coupe were unlawful. It held that Matt Hancock broke the law in appointing Dido Harding as Chair of the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) and in appointing Mike Coupe as Director of Testing at Test and Trace (NHSTT). The High Court was also clear that the Prime Minister broke the law in appointing Dido Harding as Chair of Test and Trace. 

The Court declared: “The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care did not comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 in relation to the decisions on how to appoint (i) Baroness Harding as Interim Chair of the National Institute of Health Protection in August 2020 and (ii) Mike Coupe as Director of Testing for NHS Test and Trace in September 2020.”

While the formal declaration reflects only the appointments made by Matt Hancock, the High Court is clear that the process adopted by the Prime Minister was also unlawful (paragraph 116). All three appointments breached the public sector equality duty.

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In reaching this conclusion, the Court accepted the argument made by race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust and Good Law Project that the recruitment process adopted by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State ignored the need to eliminate discrimination against the country’s disabled and ethnic minority communities, and to ensure they have equality of opportunity.

In appointing the wife of Boris Johnson’s Anti-Corruption Tsar John Penrose MP to Chair the National Institute for Health Protection, the Government failed to consider the effects on those who, the data shows, are too often shut out of public life. The Government also ignored its own internal guidance, which requires Ministers to consider how discrimination law will be complied with. 

The Runnymede Trust and Good Law Project brought the case to highlight what it means to disadvantaged groups for the Government to push its associates and donors into key jobs. The Court’s declaration will have a real impact on how public appointments are made in the future. 

The Government must now take seriously its legal and moral obligations to narrow the disadvantages faced by people with disabilities and those of colour. Public appointments must not be made without taking steps to eliminate discrimination and to advance equality of opportunity, even when normal processes don’t apply, for instance during a public health emergency. The Government will now have to be much more careful to make sure its recruitment processes are fair, equitable and open to all. 

Read the High Court’s judgment here.

The Runnymede Trust is the UK’s leading independent race equality think tank. We generate intelligence for multi-ethnic Britain through research, network building, leading debate, and policy engagement. Since 1968, the Runnymede Trust has strived to build a Britain in which all citizens and communities feel valued, enjoy equal opportunities, lead fulfilling lives, and share a common sense of belonging.

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