On Wednesday, in open court, lawyers acting on behalf of Government admitted it had breached the law by persistently failing to publish details of COVID-19 contracts.
Not only were they knowingly in breach of the law, but explosive emails read to the High Court reveal that Number 10 asked civil servants to delay publishing PPE contracts even further in order to suit their news agenda. Government openly breaching the law for their own political expediency may no longer surprise us, but it is a worrying sign indeed for our democracy.
As our legal team took Government to task for its ‘wholesale failure to comply with obligations of transparency’ it became evident that no one, including Government’s own witness, seemed to know who was responsible for ensuring legal obligations were met. Indeed, Government only sought to rectify the situation after Good Law Project and cross-party MPs Caroline Lucas, Debbie Abrahams, and Layla Moran initiated legal proceedings. Without our judicial review, who knows how many contracts would still remain unpublished.
As Government has admitted breaching the law, its chosen line of defence is that we do not have ‘standing’ to bring this judicial review. Standing is the legal stake or interest that an individual has in a dispute that entitles them to bring a legal challenge. Government argues that only ‘economic operators’ have standing to bring this case. In other words, businesses who lost out because of Government’s breach of the law. But what business would speak out, given fear of future reprisals and loss of earnings? And what about the standing of those of us who believe scrutiny of public spending is vital to hold Government to account and keep those in power honest?
We believe that the decision in this case may ultimately rest on the issue of standing and we hope to have the judgement soon. A full summary of the hearing can be found here and we will update you on the judgement as soon as we receive it.
Thank you for your support of this legal challenge.
Jolyon Maugham QC
Director of Good Law Project