UK wins court appeal over contract linked to ex-PM aide Cummings

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Former special advisor to British Prime Minister Johnson, Cummings, speaks to members of the media, in London

LONDON (Reuters) -The British government has won its bid to overturn a ruling that it 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.

A Court of Appeal ruling published on Tuesday overturned a decision made in June which said the government had shown "apparent bias" in awarding more than 560,000 pounds ($794,000) to Public First to test public opinion on the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"The work by Public First helped to improve important health messages at a key time so we welcome the Court of Appeal's ruling that this contract was awarded entirely lawfully," Johnson's spokesman said.

"We think this vindicates the approach that we took at an extremely challenging time globally to urgently get high quality advice and information so that we could secure the health messages that resonated most with the public."

The appeal court ruling set out that a fair-minded and reasonably informed observer would not have concluded that failing to carry out comparative procurement exercises created a possibility that the decision-maker was biased.

Nor, the ruling said, would an observer have concluded, given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, that the absence of any formal record of the decision-making process was indicative of apparent bias.

Jo Maugham, director of campaign organisation the Good Law Project, who brought the case said they wanted to appeal the judgement at the Supreme Court.

Public First is run by James Frayne and Rachel Wolf, both of whom previously worked with Cummings and senior minister Michael Gove. Cummings quit as Johnson's chief adviser in Nov. 2020.

(Reporting by William James and Kylie MacLellan; editing by Kate Holton and Jason Neely)

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