£100m+ Contract for Ex-Number 10 Adviser

by Good Law Project

£100m+ Contract for Ex-Number 10 Adviser

by Good Law Project
Good Law Project
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Latest: Sept. 27, 2021

Appeal hearing scheduled

Further to our 21 September update, we are pleased to confirm that the appeal hearing has been scheduled to take place on 1 February 2022.

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Back in February, Boris Johnson declared all the PPE contracts were “on the record”. We already knew he was misleading Parliament. What we have learned since raises serious questions about why certain contracts were held back - and what others remain to be unearthed.

In July 2020 Pharmaceuticals Direct Limited was handed a £102.6 million Government PPE contract - without any competition. Though it was awarded the multi-million pound deal to supply face masks last July, Government failed to publish any details relating to the contract until March this year. In fact, it was only after our lawyers wrote to Government about Pharmaceuticals Direct that this lucrative contract was disclosed, long after Boris Johnson had insisted all contract details were on the record. The company’s named representative was a man named Samir Jassal. 

Samir Jassal is a well-connected figure within the Conservative Party. According to his LinkedIn, he was an adviser in No.10 during David Cameron’s premiership. We have identified three occasions on which he has met Boris Johnson, with the last meeting held in October 2020. Jassal has also worked with several other prominent Conservative Party figures, including the Home Secretary Priti Patel and Minister Zac Goldsmith. He has also donated £4,000 to the Conservative Party in recent years.

The £102.6 million contract is not the only contract awarded to Pharmaceuticals Direct by the Department for Health and Social Care - it also received an earlier contract for Type IIR masks in May 2020, worth £28.8 million. Both deals were directly awarded to the firm without any competition. We have reason to think there are other contracts that remain unpublished.

The High Court has already ruled that Government acted unlawfully by failing to publish details of Covid-related contracts. The appearance of bias when it comes to the award of lucrative contracts without competition is cause for even more concern. 

The more detail we uncover on PPE contracts awarded by Government, the more serious the questions that arise. Once again Government's amnesia when it comes to its legal obligations has prevented timely public scrutiny of a nine digit contract awarded to a firm with close links to No 10.

To protect public funds, we intend to get answers. We have sent a pre-action protocol letter to Government initiating legal proceedings, which you can read here. 

The details: 
We have instructed leading procurement lawyers Jason Coppel QC and Rupert Paines and Bindmans LLP.

10% of the sums raised will go to the Good Law Project to help it develop and support further litigation in the public interest. It is our policy only to raise sums that we reasonably anticipate could be spent on this litigation. However, if there is a surplus it will go to support and enable other litigation we bring.

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Update 5

Good Law Project

Sept. 27, 2021

Appeal hearing scheduled

Further to our 21 September update, we are pleased to confirm that the appeal hearing has been scheduled to take place on 1 February 2022.

Update 4

Good Law Project

Sept. 21, 2021

Our request has been granted

Having been granted permission to appeal on 1 September 2021, we sought to have the appeal hearing listed as soon as possible. Government, however, said that its junior barrister was not going to be available until the end of April 2022. Even more unhelpfully, despite the appeal concerning a technical issue around service of the claim on Government, Pharmaceuticals Direct Limited (“PDL”) insisted that it needed to be involved - and that the hearing had to be pushed back to June 2022 to accommodate its barristers. 

We wrote to the Court asking for the matter to be dealt with more swiftly, and our request has been granted; Lord Justice Coulson agreed that “it would be quite wrong to wait until April/May because of the availability/unavailability of the respondent’s junior counsel”. He also agreed that PDL’s involvement was unlikely to be helpful, saying “I would have thought that the IP [Interested Party] has nothing material to add.” 

The hearing is therefore to be listed in January or early February 2022 – we will let you know as soon as a date is confirmed. Thank you for your continued support.

Update 3

Good Law Project

Sept. 1, 2021

Update: We have permission to appeal

On 29 June we published a blog explaining that a technical error by our solicitors – involving the papers being sent to the wrong email address at the Government Legal Department, corrected a day later – led the High Court to decide we could not bring our case about the award of contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds in deeply suspicious circumstances to Pharmaceuticals Direct Limited.

We said that we would appeal and we have now heard that the Court of Appeal has given us permission to bring that appeal. The Court of Appeal has decided that our arguments have “a real prospect of success” and are “of wider general importance”. 

We think we can go beyond that: the title of our blog was: “We do not believe this is what the law should be or is.” Reading between the lines of the permission decision, we think the Court of Appeal is likely to agree.

As soon as we have a date for the hearing of our appeal we will let you know.

It is only with your support that we can continue to hold Government to account. Thank you.

Update 2

Good Law Project

June 29, 2021

We do not believe that is what the law should be or is

The Government Legal Department requires new claims to be served on a particular email address. Our lawyers served (1) on 27 April 2021 an “unsealed” (i.e. yet to be stamped by the Court) copy of the claim form on that address and (2) on 28 April a sealed copy of the claim form to three named Government lawyers dealing with the claim, one of whom acknowledged receipt.

The time limit for filing the claim expired on 5 May and on 6 May the Government Legal Department wrote and pointed out that a sealed copy had not been served on the correct email address.  

Our lawyers made various applications to correct that technical deficiency but yesterday they were rejected by the Court. As the judgment explains:

“The reason for the failure was an innocent, but careless mistake made by solicitors acting for the Claimant.”

With proper respect to the judge, we do not think the decision is right. The breach was inadvertent and had no real-world consequence. We think the decision reduces the law to an artificial game played without reference to reality. We do not believe that is what the law should be or is. We will pursue an appeal to the Court of Appeal but overturning case management decisions is difficult and there can be no guarantee of success.

What this means in practice if our appeal succeeds is delay. What it means if our appeal fails is that our opportunity to bring the claim will be lost. Should that happen it is our expectation that the solicitors will meet all the costs associated with bringing the claim – both our costs and the costs we will incur to the Government.

Obviously, we will keep you updated.

We employ the best lawyers available – but even lawyers are human and mistakes happen. We continue to instruct Bindmans in this and other cases – and to be entirely confident we are right to do so.

Update 1

Good Law Project

May 29, 2021

Priti Patel, Mirza and the middlemen

Government gets a bona fide PPE offer from a would be supplier. The company has sourced the PPE, submitted a bid and passed through the technical checks. They’re close to signing on the dotted line. But at the eleventh hour they get dropped. Instead, Government buys the same thing from someone else. Someone who came in later but with close connections to Cabinet Ministers - and at an eye watering price.

This is a story we have heard, with close variants, again and again. But Government secrecy means we haven’t been able to corroborate it - until now.

The bare facts of what Good Law Project has learned about two contracts awarded to Pharmaceuticals Direct Limited (PDL) are extraordinary. We hold documents evidencing that:

·       Priti Patel and Boris Johnson’s adviser Munira Mirza pushed the case of two middle men for PDL with Cabinet Office;

·       the first middle man was Samir Jassal. He is a Conservative councillor who has been photographed with Boris Johnson (and May and Cameron) and who has personal links to Priti Patel and a string of other high profile Conservative politicians;

·       the second middle man was Surbjit Shergill. A company he owned went from £200 to almost £10m in value in the year of the pandemic. Documents leaked to Good Law Project suggest he billed PDL over £16m for his services;

·       the first contract, for IIR facemasks, was signed only six days after a direct intervention from Priti Patel – and for a price materially above the average price;

·       the second contract, for ‘Meixin 2016V’ FFP3 facemasks, was concluded on 7 July - and only after officials from the political hub of PPE procurement, the Cabinet Office, overruled objections from DHSC that it was overpriced by £50m;

·       another bidder had passed technical assurance – and had even been sent a contract – to supply Meixin 2016Vs at the same time and in meaningfully the same quantity. On 2 July they were told Government had already bought enough of that type of mask. Five days later Government spent over £100m buying Meixin 2016Vs from PDL. 

Good Law Project has published a long read on how a number of politicians and advisors intervened in PDL’s bid for a lucrative contract. We link to all the key documents. And there is more to come. All involved say they did nothing wrong - and their responses can be found in the long read. We think the evidence we have published speaks for itself. 

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