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Covid-19: Matt Hancock failed to comply with his obligations when handing out contracts

picture of writing that says 'be fair'

The High Court ruled on 18 February 2021 on R (on the application of Good Law Project Ltd) v Secretary of State for Health and Social Care [2021] EWHC 346.

The Good Law Project applied for judicial review of Matt Hancock as Health Secretary and his approach to policy and procurement law when awarding contracts for goods and services during the Covid-19 pandemic, which were worth several billion pounds.

The claimants alleged that Matt Hancock had:

  1. Failed to comply with the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, Regulation 50 which requires him to publish a contract award notice no later than 30 days after awarding a contract with a value over the applicable amount.
  2. Failed to comply with government policy which requires publication of the tender and contract documents of any contract with a value over £10,000 (transparency policy).
  3. Made a conscious decision to de-prioritise compliance with Regulation 50 and the transparency policy.

Matt Hancock admitted breaching Regulation 50 but stated that the procurement exercise took place in unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances. The pandemic made it necessary to quickly procure many more goods and services that would normally be required.

Matt Hancock denied that a policy of de-prioritising ever existed. The High Court found that the evidence did not provide a proper basis for going behind Matt Hancock’s denial.

The Court held that Matt Hancock had a common law duty to comply with the transparency policy absent good reason to depart from it. The Court found that Matt Hancock’s evidence for failing to comply with the policy amounted to an excuse, not a justification. He therefore acted unlawfully by failing to comply with the transparency policy.

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