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A general view of the Royal Courts of Justice, more commonly known as the High Court, November 2, 2020. — Reuters pic
A general view of the Royal Courts of Justice, more commonly known as the High Court, November 2, 2020. — Reuters pic

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LONDON, June 9 — London’s High Court has found Britain’s government acted unlawfully when it gave a contract to a public relations firm run by associates of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings.

The court agreed with a complaint that the government had shown “apparent bias” in awarding more than £560,000 (US$794,000) to Public First.

The Good Law Project, a campaign group, brought a judicial review against the government, saying the contract was awarded without any competitive tenders in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The decision of 5 June 2020 to award the contract to Public First gave rise to apparent bias and was unlawful,” the court said.

“The defendant’s failure to consider any other research agency, by reference to experience, expertise, availability or capacity, would lead a fair minded and informed observer to conclude that there was a real possibility, or a real danger, that the decision-maker was biased.”

Cummings said he had been more concerned about trying to save lives than ensuring all decisions taken during the first wave of the pandemic were lawful in the eyes of the court.

“On this basis the courts shd rule that many 2020 decisions were similarly ‘unlawful’ as I & the Cabinet Secretary repeatedly told officials ‘focus on imminent threats to lives/destruction, not process/lawyers/Potemkin paper trails,” he said in a tweet.

The National Audit Office said last year there had been a lack of transparency and a failure to explain why certain suppliers were chosen, or how any conflict of interest was dealt with, in procurement deals between March and the end of July worth about £18 billion.

Opposition politicians have accused the government of running a “chumocracy” with contracts, including for the purchase of what turned out to be unusable personal protective equipment, and appointments made to those with family or business links to those in power.

Public First is run by James Frayne and Rachel Wolf, both of whom previously worked with Cummings and the Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove. Cummings quit as Johnson’s chief adviser late last year. Gove remains in office.

A spokesperson for Public First said it was proud of the work it did in the early stages of the pandemic and the judge found that weak internal processes gave rise to the appearance of bias.

“The judge made no criticism whatsoever of Public First anywhere in the judgement,” he said. — Reuters

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