Union loses High Court challenge over PM backing Priti Patel

Civil servants’ union LOSES High Court challenge over PM’s decision to back Priti Patel after standards probe into bullying allegations

  • Civil servants’ union loses High Court challenge over Priti Patel standards case
  • Judges ruled PM did not misdirect himself about the ministerial code provisions
  • Boris Johnson stood by Home Secretary after report on accusations of bullying 

A union representing senior civil servants has lost a High Court challenge over Boris Johnson’s decision to back Priti Patel following accusations of bullying.

The FDA union brought a judicial review over the PM going against the findings of his then-adviser on ministerial standards last year.

But in a ruling released today, Lord Justice Lewis, sitting with Mrs Justice Steyn, dismissed the claim.

Lord Justice Lewis concluded that Mr Johnson had not misdirected himself as to the provisions of the Ministerial Code.

The judge said: ‘The question for this court is whether the Prime Minister proceeded on the basis that conduct would not fall within the description of bullying within paragraph 1.2 of the Ministerial Code if the person concerned was unaware of, or did not intend, the harm or offence caused.

‘Reading the statement (made by Mr Johnson) as a whole, and in context, we do not consider that the Prime Minister misdirected himself in that way.’

In an investigation into Ms Patel’s behaviour, published in November last year, Sir Alex Allan found she had not always treated civil servants with ‘consideration and respect’.

The FDA union brought a judicial review over Boris Johnson (pictured) going against the findings of his then-adviser on ministerial standards last year

Lord Justice Lewis concluded that Mr Johnson had not misdirected himself as to the provisions of the Ministerial Code when reaching his decision about whether to back Priti Patel (pictured)

He concluded: ‘Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals. To that extent her behaviour has been in breach of the Ministerial Code, even if unintentionally.’

Mr Johnson, the arbiter of the Ministerial Code, said the Home Secretary was ‘unaware’ of the impact she had and he was ‘reassured’ that she was ‘sorry for inadvertently upsetting those with whom she was working’.

After ‘weighing up all the factors’, he concluded the code had not been breached.

But, at a hearing last month, lawyers for the FDA, which represents senior public servants, argued Mr Johnson ‘misinterpreted’ the term ‘bullying’ in the Ministerial Code when deciding if Ms Patel’s treatment of civil servants breached its standards.

They alleged he made a ‘misdirection of law’ in reaching his decision.

Lawyers for Mr Johnson argued that the FDA’s claim was ‘not justiciable’ and that there had been ‘no error of law’.

They said the Ministerial Code ‘does not create or impose any legal duties on ministers or the Prime Minister’, is ‘not required by law’, and its contents are ‘not regulated by law’.

The code is a ‘political document’ and ‘not about protecting the rights of civil servants’ who still have access ‘to all the employment law rights’, the Prime Minister’s lawyer argued.

FDA general secretary Dave Penman said in a statement after the ruling that despite the overall dismissal of the union’s claim, the judgment is an ‘important step forward in the battle to ensure that ministers are held to account for their behaviour in the workplace’.

He said: ‘The court has determined that the Prime Minister did not acquit the Home Secretary of bullying, and that he did not reject the findings of Sir Alex Allan that her conduct amounted to bullying.

‘This will bring some comfort to those civil servants who were brave enough to come forward and give evidence to the investigation about the Home Secretary’s conduct.

‘While the court decided that the Prime Minister was entitled not to dismiss the Home Secretary, the case has important implications for the protection of civil servants in the future.’

The union said it will apply for its legal costs to be paid in full by the Government given the findings made in the ruling, despite the overall dismissal.

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