Equality advice helpline contract challenge to be heard in the High Court on 29 September 2016

The legal challenge to the Government’s decision to award the contract for operating the national discrimination advice helpline to G4S, a large multi-national corporation, is to be heard in the High Court on 29 September 2016.

The national network of law centres, represented by Deighton Pierce Glynn are challenging the decision on the basis that the government did not properly comply with its equalities duties when it took the decision.  It adopted a contracting framework that excluded all but six large multinationals and did not consider the shortcomings of the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS) – then before a House of Lords Select Committee – with stakeholders; nor did it properly consider how to reform EASS with the equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). LCN also claim that Government failed to properly consider G4S’s equality and human rights record in the many other public services it has delivered. As a large employer of over 45,000 people in the UK, G4S also faces a conflict of interest in providing a service that its own employees might need to consult.

LCN faces a challenge in bringing the case as the Government has not publicized the contracting decisions or the tendering process it has used. It was only when the news of the contract award leaked out on 26 July 2016 that the public became aware.

The hearing on 29 September 2016 will decide whether LCN have permission to proceed with their judicial review and whether the contract award will be suspended until the outcome of the case. Because of the lack of public information, the challenge could only be brought shortly before the contract was due to start.

Daniel Carey, acting for LCN, explained:

“This case concerns the legal duty on the government to assess the equalities impact of procurement decisions. One would expect a high degree of compliance where the Government Equalities Office was the decision maker and the service being procured was an equalities advice line.”

An online petition against awarding the EASS contract to G4S has attracted over 60,000 signatures so far. The petition was started by SumOfUs.org, a global consumer organisation, which has also been crowdfunding among its UK members to support this legal action.

Nimrod Ben-Cnan, head of policy at LCN, said:

“This legal action is about ensuring access to justice for some of the most disadvantaged and often vulnerable people in society. It is already difficult for people to access appropriate advice on discrimination, which is a complex area of law. Our concern, also raised in the joint letter [of NGOs], is that government does all it should to ensure that the most suitable provider is chosen, and that the service is effective.”

The story has been covered several times in the media. Please see below: