What a Difference a Day Makes: PPE contract challenge fails after service blunder

August 3, 2021


2 min read

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What's going on here?

Good Law Project, a not-for-profit campaign organisation that uses the law to protect the interests of the public, has been set back in its challenge to the government’s awarding of PPE contracts after serving the necessary court papers a day late.

What does this mean?

Good Law Project sought to challenge the lawfulness of the government’s decision to award a contract for the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) to Pharmaceuticals Direct Limited. This contract was among those awarded without sufficient transparency or competition to companies with questionable experience and/or connections to the Conservative Party. To read our report on that, click here.

The legal campaign group was required to send a sealed (stamped by the court) claim form to a particular email address by 5 May. It sent an unsealed copy on 27 April, and a sealed copy on 6 May. Therefore, it failed to comply with the procedural rules for serving the claim form by the required date. On 29 June, the High Court rejected Good Law Project’s plea for an extension of time for serving the claim form, and as such the claim failed. The group plans to appeal this decision.

What's the big picture effect?

This case raises the question of whether strict adherence to procedural rules hampers the bringing of public interest litigation. The procedural rule breach had no real-world consequences, yet it could eliminate the opportunity to challenge a potentially unlawful government decision.

Public interest litigation is an important means of holding the government to account. In recent years, Good Law Project has challenged the government’s decisions relating to the triggering of Article 50, climate change and the 2020 exam results controversy. The PPE contract challenge seeks to hold the government accountable in the way it spends public money. This is necessary given its commitment to having “robust processes in place for spending public money” and “ensuring value for money for the taxpayer”.

Support for public interest litigation groups has grown exponentially during the pandemic, as trust in the government has diminished. The number of Good Law Project supporters has increased to nearly 20,000 from fewer than 2,000 at the start of 2020. This illustrates growing public demand for challenges to government decisions.

With trust in the government at an all-time low, challenges to executive decision-making are particularly prevalent and necessary. Procedural rules ensure fairness and efficiency in the hearing of these challenges, but their rigidity threatens to shut down important litigation and undermine accountability.

Report written by Isobel Deane

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