Direct award of Covid-related contract to Public First gave rise to apparent bias

11 Jun 2021 By Imogen Proud

R (Good Law Project) v Minister for the Cabinet Office [2021] EWHC 1569 (TCC)

Michael Bowsher QC, Ewan West and Anneliese Blackwood acted for the Minister for the Cabinet Office, instructed by the Government Legal Department.

Imogen Proud is instructed by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in R (Good Law Project) v Secretary of State for Health and Social Care HT-2020-0002226/291/292/419, referred to in this case note.


On 9 June 2021, the High Court (Mrs Justice O’Farrell) held that the decision of 5 June 2020 of the Minister for the Cabinet Office (Michael Gove MP) to award a contract for the provision of focus group and communications support during the Covid-19 pandemic (the “Contract”) to Public First Limited (“Public First”) gave rise to apparent bias. O’Farrell J held that the Claimant was entitled to a declaration that the award of the Contract was unlawful.

There are longstanding and personal and professional connections between Public First’s directors and owners and Dominic Cummings, who was then Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister and on whose recommendation the contract was awarded. The appearance of bias arose because of the Defendant’s “failure to consider any other research agency, by reference to experience, expertise, availability or capacity” [168].

Two further grounds of challenge did not succeed, namely (1) that there was no basis for making a direct award under an emergency procedure and (2) that the award of the contract for a period of six months was disproportionate.

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The comments made in this case note are wholly personal and do not reflect the views of any other members of Monckton Chambers, its tenants or clients.