The UK government “acted unlawfully” by failing to release details of 504 coronavirus-related contracts in due time, the High Court ruled.
The Good Law Project – a nonprofit campaigning organization that “uses the law to protect the public interest” – has taken legal action against the Department of Health and Welfare (DHSC) for “wholesale failure” to disclose details of Contracts made during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government is required by law to issue a “contract award notice” within 30 days of the award of a contract for any public goods or service worth more than £ 120,000.
In a High Court ruling today, Justice Chamberlain said the DHSC “acted unlawfully by failing to publish notices of procurement of relevant contracts for supplies and services related to Covid-19 within the required 30 day period […] in relation to 504 of the 535 contracts awarded on or before October 7, 2020 – d. H. 94% “.
He added: “It is also undisputed that the Foreign Minister [Matt Hancock] Revised contracts were not published in accordance with the Transparency Directive. “
Mr Justice Chamberlain also asked the DHSC to pay £ 85,000 for the cost of the Good Law Project.
The news follows a separate decision last month which found that “the Foreign Minister has in a significant number of cases violated his legal obligation to publish contract award notices within 30 days of the award of the contract”.
The Good Law Project argued that there had been a “grim” breach of the commitment by the DHSC.
She also alleged the government was in breach of its own transparency policy, which requires disclosure of details of public contracts worth more than £ 10,000.
The judge said today: “The defendant has published 608 out of 708 relevant contracts for supplies and services related to Covid-19 that were awarded on or before October 7, 2020.
“In some or all of these cases, the defendant acted unlawfully by failing to publish the contracts within the deadline set in the (Transparency Directive).
“The Foreign Minister has now provided the correct figures showing the extent of compliance (the 30-day requirement), but cannot provide equivalent figures for compliance with the transparency policy.
“This is because the date the contract is uploaded is not recorded in the Contracts Finder database, so we could not calculate how many were published within the deadlines set in the transparency policy.”
He went on to say that the Good Law Project “complains about the omission of these latter numbers, finding that 100 contracts are still pending in the Contracts Finder for nearly five months after the claim has been made.
“It is unfortunate that the correct figures for compliance with the transparency policy are not available, but not – and there is nothing the court can do about it.”
Gemma Abbott, the legal director of the Good Law Project, said after the verdict: “The government has not only misled Parliament and given inaccurate information to the court, but has also misled the country.
“If the details of the contract are not made public, they cannot be properly examined. There is no way of knowing where the taxpayers’ money is going and why.”
“Billions have been spent on those affiliated with the Conservative Party and huge sums of money wasted on PPE that is unsuitable for the purpose.
“We have a government and a prime minister who despise transparency and are apparently allergic to accountability. The least the public deserves now is the truth. “
Mr Justice Chamberlain said the situation the DHSC faced in the early months of the pandemic was “unprecedented” when “large quantities of goods and services had to be procured in a very short period of time”.
The judge said it was “understandable that attention was drawn to obtaining what was deemed necessary to save lives.”
He added, however, that the DHSC’s “historic failure” to meet its obligations to publish contracts due to the difficulties caused by the pandemic was “an excuse, not an excuse”.