Flash News: Dr Cathy Gardner wins right to take Government to a Judicial Review

Virologist whose father, 88, died of Covid in a care home sues the government 


A judicial review will probe whether the Government failed to protect care home residents from Covid-19 following a legal challenge by two bereft daughters.

A High Court judge today ruled in favour of Dr Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris, who are taking action against Matt Hancock, the NHS and Public Health England for their handling of the crisis. 

Dr Gardner argues that the lack of ‘adequate’ measures to protect residents was ‘one of the most egregious and devastating policy failures of recent times’. 

She accused the Government of breaching the human rights of thousands of vulnerable people, including her 88-year-old father Michael Gibson, a retired registrar who passed away at the Cherwood House Care Centre in Oxfordshire on April 3.

Ms Harris, 57, also joined the legal fight after her 89-year-old father Don, an ex-Royal Marine, died in May along with 24 residents of his Hampshire care home. 

The Government and related health bodies oppose the legal challenge and asked the judge to throw out the case.

But Mr Justice Linden told a remote hearing this afternoon: ‘I consider it interests of justice for the claim to be heard.’   

The first-stage victory for the women paves the way for a judicial review that could have huge ramifications for the families of at least 30,000 people who died in care homes with Covid this year

Dr Cathy Gardner with her father Michael, a former registrar, who died in a care home after a resident was brought in with coronavirus after being discharged with coronavirus

Fay Harris, 57, whose father Don, a former Royal Marine, was one of 24 residents of a Hampshire care home who died in May after a Covid-19 outbreak, has also joined the legal action

Mr Justice Linden said that the daughters should be given permission to pursue their case on all grounds, saying it ‘crossed the threshold of arguability’.   

Both women are ‘appalled’ by Health Secretary Mr Hancock’s insistence that a ‘protective ring’ had been placed around care homes to shield them during the first wave of the pandemic. 

Dr Gardner’s lawyers claimed that prior to her father’s death the care home was pressured into accepting a hospital patient who had tested positive but ‘had no temperature for 72 hours’. 

Mr Gibson, a retired superintendent registrar of birth marriages and deaths, was primed to catch the illness despite never leaving the home, they said. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed that a ‘protective ring’ was placed around care homes

Dr Gardner was so upset that she was forced to say goodbye to her octogenarian father through a care home window and the circumstances before his death that she is suing the government.

Her case accuses the government of unlawfully exposing countless care home residents to substantial risk during the pandemic – and was filed at the High Court in June.

Dr Gardner, also chair of East Devon District Council, believes her father’s death was part of a ‘national disgrace’. 

The case will be for the benefit of every individual, including care home residents, staff and family members, affected by the government’s course of action, she says.

Dr Gardner says the government opted for a ‘casual approach’ to protecting care home residents, adding: ‘At worst, the government have adopted a policy that has caused the death of the most vulnerable in our society.

‘It is completely unacceptable that this happened and that responsibility has been avoided.’

On her father’s death certificate it said ‘Covid probable’, because he perished before widespread-testing became widespread in care homes. 

The government has been met with staunch criticism in relation to its handling of care homes throughout the health crisis, with particular policies allowing patients to be discharged from hospitals into care homes without being tested coming under fire.

Dr Gardner’s case, which will be filed at the High Court on Friday, accuses the government of having exposed care home residents to substantial risk during the pandemic

A letter sent to Mr Hancock in June said Dr Gardner believed that the controversial policies adopted by the Health Secretary, NHS England and Public Health England ‘manifestly failed to protect the health, wellbeing and right to life of those residing and working in care homes’.

The letter also claimed: ‘Their failings have led to large numbers of unnecessary deaths and serious illnesses.

‘In addition, the failings of Government have been aggravated by the making of wholly disingenuous, misleading and – in some cases – plainly false statements suggesting that everything necessary has been done to protect care homes during the pandemic.’ 

Ms Harris, who has joined the court action, had planned to treat her father Don, a former Royal Marine, to a special sailing trip in his beloved Portsmouth Harbour to celebrate his 90th birthday last month.

She had found a boat adapted to carry people in wheelchairs so he could see the harbour where he was stationed from the sea again.

But days later on May 1 Mr Harris died at Marlfield care home in Alton after an outbreak of coronavirus. Hampshire Court Council said later that a quarter of the 24 deaths there around this period were Covid-related but could have been higher.

His bereft daughter told The Times: ‘Physically my dad was fit and he was well. He always had a smile on his face. When we left him he was mobile. He was strong and he was a fighter. He had Alzheimer’s and had had care problems but he came through them all. He should not have died, he should have been on that birthday trip.’

The Department of Health has said it cannot comment on legal proceedings. 

Government’s care home Covid response ‘devastating policy failure’, court told

Press association report of proceedings from the High Court on Cathy Gardner’s case – no judgement yet

Press Association 2020 www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk 

A “failure” to introduce “adequate” measures to protect care home residents from the “ravages” of Covid-19 is “one of the most egregious and devastating policy failures of recent times”,  the High Court has been told.

Dr Cathy Gardner is pursuing a legal challenge against the Government and others over decisions and measures taken in relation to care homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

She claims certain key policies and decisions led to a “shocking death toll” of care home residents – which she puts at more than 20,000 people between March and June – particularly an alleged policy of discharging patients from hospital into care homes without testing and suitable isolation arrangements.

The defendants’ failure to implement timely, adequate measures to protect vulnerable care home residents from the ravages of Covid represents one of the most egregious and devastating policy failures of recent times

Jason Coppel QC

Dr Gardner, who is bringing her case with another individual, Fay Harris, alleges the measures breached human rights and equality laws.

Her father, Michael Gibson, died in an Oxfordshire care home on April 3 after it readmitted without Covid testing a former resident who had been in hospital. Mr Gibson’s death was recorded as “probable Covid”, according to documents before the court.

Ms Harris’s father “died of Covid” after his care home accepted hospital discharges of patients who may have been infected with the virus, it adds.

At a remote hearing on Thursday, lawyers for Dr Gardner asked Mr Justice Linden to grant permission for a full hearing of her challenge.

The Government and others oppose the challenge and ask the judge to dismiss the case.

In written documents before the court, Jason Coppel QC alleged: “Between March and June 2020, more than 20,000 vulnerable care home residents in England and Wales, including the fathers of both of the claimants, died from Covid-19.

“The defendants’ failure to implement timely, adequate measures to protect vulnerable care home residents from the ravages of Covid represents one of the most egregious and devastating policy failures of recent times.”

The defendants implemented policies which exposed vulnerable care home residents, including the claimants’ fathers, to the risk of death or serious illness from Covid

Jason Coppel QC

He said: “This claim is a legal challenge to certain key policies and decisions of the defendants which led to the shocking death toll, notably the policy of discharging patients from hospital into care homes without Covid testing and without ensuring that suitable isolation arrangements were in place.”

Mr Coppel argued these proceedings raise legal issues of “substantial public importance and interest regarding the duties owed by the State to a particularly vulnerable, and in significant respects marginalised, constituency, namely vulnerable care home residents.”

He claimed: “The defendants implemented policies which exposed vulnerable care home residents, including the claimants’ fathers, to the risk of death or serious illness from Covid.

“In particular, during March 2020 the defendants formulated and applied a national policy of discharging patients from hospitals directly into care homes, without Covid testing or quarantine arrangements being applied and in circumstances where care homes lacked suitable infection control regimes including personal protective equipment (PPE).

“This, inevitably, resulted in the transferred patients seeding Covid infection within the vulnerable care home populations into which they were transferred.”

The legal action is being brought by Dr Gardner and Ms Harris against the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England.

At Thursday’s hearing, Sir James Eadie QC, barrister for the Government, said the challenge was “unarguable”.

He said that in the early weeks of the pandemic, the focus was on ensuring the NHS was not overwhelmed and “that means at the sharpest point that was ensuring capacity in intensive care units to deal with the most severely affected cases”.

This was important for older people as they were particularly at risk of the virus, Sir James said, and there was “no question of protecting the NHS at the expense of older people”.

He noted that in the early days of the pandemic, the virus was new, and information and understanding about it, how it was transmitted, the symptoms and effects was developing, with steps needing to be taken to protect the population.

He said the aim of a “discharge requirement” introduced in March was “to ensure those who were medically fit to be discharged were being discharged to avoid that overwhelming”.

This involved returning people from hospital to their homes, including care homes if that was where they lived.

He added it was moving people from an environment where space was being “freed up to take the worst affected cases, those nearest death’s door”.

Sir James argued this measure was also taking people “out of an environment where, on any sensible view, it could be said they were at greater transmission risk”.

“It is wrong to suggest it was being done without a care for the risk in care homes,” he said.

“These risks were being subjected to continuing care and consideration.”

Sir James also claimed that care homes had already been given guidance about safeguarding at that point, including around issues such as isolation.

Dr Gardner is pursuing her case on the grounds that the defendants breached duties under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), including the right to life and protection from discrimination.

It is also argued that the defendants failed in their public law duties to “act rationally, with due enquiry, with regard to relevant considerations and disregarding irrelevant considerations”, and that the measures indirectly discriminated against elderly and disabled people.

Ottery St Mary Hospital to become new ‘cancer hub’ – East Devon News

Ottery St Mary Hospital is to become a new ‘cancer hub’ in a bid to boost services for patients and their families in East Devon.

Just how easy is it to get to Ottery by public transport e.g. from Newton Poppleford, remind me? – Owl

East Devon Reporter eastdevonnews.co.uk 

Specialists from the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital’s (RD&E) oncology department and charity FORCE will be working together within a dedicated unit at the Keegan Road site.

Access to potentially life-saving treatments will be among the new services available – with chemotherapy sessions held in the town for the first time.

It means the service will move from Honiton Hospital.

Consultants and nurse specialists will also hold cancer clinics and FORCE will offer a variety of support services in Ottery.

The new cancer unit will open for one day a week from Friday, November 20.

It is planned this will increase to five days – Monday to Friday – when staffing levels allow.

Chemotherapy has been available at Honiton Hospital at least once a week since October 2018 as part of an  outreach programme from the Exeter-based FORCE Cancer Charity.

It says the switch to Ottery means the service can ‘increase significantly’.

“While Honiton has proved popular with our patients, we have outgrown the facilities,” said the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital’s lead cancer nurse Tina Grose.

“The decision was therefore made to consolidate existing outreach into one location, which allowed us to expand, bringing alongside key services such as clinics, FORCE, the Living with and Beyond Cancer programme and enhanced supportive care.”

FORCE chief executive Meriel Fishwick added: “’We are so very grateful to the people of Honiton, especially our wonderful volunteers, for their support of FORCE and the outreach chemotherapy service since it started in October 2018.

“The accommodation in Ottery St Mary Hospital will allow the range of cancer services to expand and FORCE is now planning how it will offer support and information services alongside patients’ vital cancer treatment.”

The benefits of services in Ottery St Mary to people affected by cancer

  • Expert advice and treatment closer to home so less travelling time and expense;
  • Easier parking;
  • Quieter location and treatment area;
  • Reduced waiting time for treatment, both in Ottery and Exeter;
  • Experienced oncology staff from the hospital to deliver services;
  • Access to additional FORCE support for patients and families.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought some disruption to the RD&E’s delivery of chemotherapy in the wider community.

The service, which uses experienced nurses from the hospital’s Cherrybrook chemotherapy unit paid for by FORCE, continued in Okehampton and temporarily increased to two days a week in Honiton.

A short-term suspension of chemo sessions in Tiverton is due to end this month.

FORCE has worked closely with the RD&E to help with the transition from Honiton to Ottery.

The charity hopes to mirror many of the services it offers at its main centre in Exeter at the new East Devon hub.

These could include counselling, complementary therapies, advice and information sessions, physiotherapy and exercise clinics.

It is hoped that volunteers from FORCE will also be involved when COVID-19 restrictions allow.

FORCE says it has adapted its services during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure it continued to offer unparalleled support for local people impacted by cancer.

Counsellors, information nurses, a dedicated benefits advisor and oncology physiotherapist helped hundreds dealing with a cancer diagnosis via phone and video calls.

The FORCE Support and Information Centre in the grounds of the RD&E is now open again with COVID secure measures in place.

New national parks and thousands of green jobs under plans to build back greener

Warm words, re-announcement of previous pledges or does this signal real change? Are we about to get an East Devon and Dorset National Park? – Owl

Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street www.gov.uk 

  • Thousands of new jobs to be created and retained as part of Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan to drive UK’s green ambitions
  • New national parks and greater protections for England’s iconic landscapes
  • Plans come ahead of publication next week of wider blueprint for UK green industrial revolution, creating thousands of jobs and making progress on net zero targets

Even more new jobs will be created and retained under new plans to kickstart a green economic recovery, the government announced today (Sunday 15 November), alongside greater protections for England’s iconic landscapes and the creation of new national parks.

Following the initial success of the first round, £40 million additional investment into the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund will go towards creating and retaining thousands of jobs, with funding being awarded to environmental charities and partners across England to restore the natural environment and help make progress on the UK’s ongoing work to address the twin challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change, as part of our green recovery from Covid-19.

After a competitive process, a wide range of projects to be announced shortly will receive funding to enhance our natural environment and create and support thousands of jobs. These may include action towards the creation or restoration of priority habitats, preventing or cleaning up pollution, woodland creation, peatland and wetland restoration and actions to help people connect with nature. This will in turn create and retain a range of skilled and unskilled jobs, such as ecologists, project managers, tree planters and teams to carry out nature restoration.

The government has also announced today that more of England’s beautiful and iconic landscapes will be turned into National Parks and Areas of Natural Beauty, in order to increase access to nature for communities and better protect the country’s rich wildlife and biodiversity.

10 “Landscape Recovery” projects will also be launched across England over the next four years to restore peatlands, woodlands and create wilder landscapes. These projects will help restore the equivalent of over 30,000 football pitches of wildlife rich habitat.

The commitments come ahead of the publication of the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan next week, which will set out his steps for a green industrial revolution to boost green jobs whilst invigorating plans to achieve net zero by 2050.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

As we build back greener we’re taking new steps to expand and enhance our landscapes – creating and retaining thousands of green jobs in the process which will be crucial to my Ten Point Plan for delivering a green recovery.

Britain’s iconic landscapes are part of the fabric of our national identity – sustaining our communities, driving local economies and inspiring people across the ages. That’s why with the natural world under threat, it’s more important than ever that we act now to enhance our natural environment and protect our precious wildlife and biodiversity.

These measures mark the next steps in delivering on the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan commitments and its pledge to protect 30% of the UK’s land by 2030.

Combined, the new plans to safeguard the natural environment will extend protections of land by 150,000ha in England towards the government’s goal of protecting and enhancing an additional area of over 400,000ha.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said:

As we build back greener from the coronavirus pandemic, we are committed to shaping a cleaner and more resilient society to protect and restore our natural environment and diverse ecosystems.

Today’s announcement illustrates how we are leading the world in protecting the natural environment and combating climate change.

By starting the process for designating more of our beautiful and iconic landscapes as National Parks and AONBs, and through the new Landscape Recovery projects, we will help expand and protect precious wildlife habitats and, vitally, increase people’s access to our treasured landscapes.

The new Landscape Recovery projects will help expand wildlife habitats in England, restoring wilder landscapes and taking forward our ambition to establish a Nature Recovery Network, which will bring together representatives from across England to drive forward the restoration of protected sites and landscapes. These projects could give a home to species that we have seen flourish in similar initiatives across the country, which include the curlew, nightingale, horseshoe bat, pine marten, red squirrel and wild orchids.

The projects will be established over the next four years through the Government’s Environmental Land Management scheme, which will be centred around support aimed at incentivising sustainable farming practices, creating habitats for nature recovery and supporting the establishment of new woodland and other ecosystem services to help tackle challenges like climate change. This follows the landmark Agriculture Bill passing into law this week.

The plans will also help protect the country’s natural infrastructure by expanding a variety of habitats, such as trees, peat and grassland which are central to capturing and removing CO2 from the atmosphere, helping to improve air quality for our communities.

Three more coronavirus clusters recorded across Devon

Three new clusters have been recorded in Devon, according to the Goverment’s latest coronavirus data.

Chloe Parkman www.devonlive.com 

The new clusters are in Ashburton and Buckfastleigh, Sidbury, Offwell and Beer, Heathfield and Liverton.

The latest data comes after three more coronavirus clusters were recorded yesterday (November 17).

The areas with 30 cases or more, are Pennsylvania and University (Exeter), Brixham Town, Braunton, Wellswood and Wonford and St Loye’s.

Those with 20 cases or more are, Higher Brixham, Ottery St Mary & West Hill, Shiphay & the Willows, Exmouth Littleham and Exmouth Town and Paignton Central.

The Government’s coronavirus cluster map splits the country into areas of roughly 7,500 people, based on the 2011 census, known as Middle Super Output Areas (MSOAs).

The map highlights areas where three or more coronavirus cases have been reported for a week period, with the numbers coming off of the map a week after being confirmed positive.

Areas not highlighted do not necessarily have no coronavirus cases in them, as the data does not highlight or count areas with less than three cases in order to protect individuals privacy – meaning that if an area has one or two cases, it will display as 0 to 2 cases.

82 cases were reported in Devon for today, November 18 and the areas which these cases occurred will appear in the update for November 23, as there is a five-day delay between cases and being added to the daily coronavirus cluster report.

Areas not listed are classified as “data suppressed” in the Government data, meaning that those areas have between zero and two cases and the data isn’t published in order to protect the privacy of individuals involved.

Today’s update covers the week from November 7 to November 13, meaning positive tests reported on November 6 no longer appear in the statistics.

Coronavirus Cases in Devon- November 7 to November 13

(Note: the numbers in the third column are the difference between today’s reported coronavirus cases for the week of November 7 to November 13 and yesterday’s which covered the week of November 6 to November 12. Cases indicated in red represent an increase, Green represents a decrease)

Cluster NameTotalDifference with previous day
Pennsylvania & University431
Brixham Town34-2
Wonford & St Loye’s300
Shiphay & the Willows272
Exmouth Littleham251
Paignton Central25-5
Exmouth Town231
Exmouth Brixington224
Higher Brixham22-6
Ottery St Mary & West Hill20-5
St Leonard’s201
Cranbrook, Broadclyst & Stoke Canon191
Blatchcombe & Blagdon171
Goodrington & Roselands17-2
Middlemoor & Sowton174
Barnstaple South161
Barnstaple Sticklepath163
Bratton Fleming, Goodleigh & Kings Heanton161
Pinhoe & Whipton North15-2
St Thomas East155
Torquay Central151
Chelston, Cockington & Livermead143
Holsworthy, Bradworthy & Welcombe142
Honiton South & West140
Churston & Galmpton132
Exmouth Withycombe Raleigh13-2
Feniton & Whimple13-1
Roundswell & Landkey13-1
Central Exeter120
Clifton & Maidenway120
Clyst, Exton & Lympstone120
Exmouth Halsdon120
Honiton North & East122
Barnstaple Pilton111
Dawlish North113
Mincinglake & Beacon Heath11-3
Upton & Hele11-2
Exwick & Foxhayes101
Heavitree West & Polsloe101
Shebbear, Cookworthy & Broadheath100
Barnstaple Central92
Bideford South & East9-1
Bradninch, Silverton & Thorverton93
Countess Wear & Topsham90
Heavitree East & Whipton South9-3
Newton Abbot, Highweek92
Preston & Shorton9-2
Salcombe, Malborough & Thurlestone90
Sidmouth Sidford90
St James’s Park & Hoopern91
Tiverton North & Outer91
Wembury, Brixton & Newton Ferrers90
Bideford North82
Chudleigh & Bovey Tracey8-1
Hatherleigh, Exbourne & North Tawton8-4
Horrabridge & Mary Tavy8-1
Lynton & Combe Martin81
Teignmouth South80
Woolwell & Lee Mill8-2
Yealmpton, Modbury & Aveton Gifford82
Alphington & Marsh Barton70
Appledore & Northam North71
Babbacombe & Plainmoor70
Bampton, Holcombe & Westleigh70
Bere Alston, Buckland Monachorum & Yelverton73
Dunkesewell, Upottery & Stockland70
Lifton, Lamerton & Bridestowe70
Loddiswell & Dartington7-1
Marldon, Stoke Gabriel & Kingswear72
Ogwell, Mile End & Teigngrace7-3
South Molton70
Willand, Sampford Peverell & Halberton70
Bow, Lapford & Yeoford60
Great Torrington61
Hartland Coast63
Ilfracombe East62
Morchard Bishop, Copplestone & Newton St Cyres6-2
Starcross & Exminster60
Teignmouth North60
Budleigh Salterton50
Chagford, Princetown & Dartmoor50
Dawlish South50
Fremington & Instow50
Newton Abbot, Broadlands & Wolborough51
Newton Abbot, Milber & Buckland50
Sidmouth Town50
South Brent & Cornwood51
St Marychurch & Maidencombe51
St Thomas West50
Winkleigh & High Bickington51
Woolacombe, Georgeham & Croyde55
Ashburton & Buckfastleigh41
Bishop’s Nympton, Witheridge & Chulmleigh4-2
Poppleford, Otterton & Woodbury41
Sidbury, Offwell & Beer44
Tiverton West4-1
Totnes Town40
Bishopsteignton & Shaldon30
Chillington, Torcross & Stoke Fleming30
Heathfield & Liverton33
Kilmington, Colyton & Uplyme3-1
Moretonhampstead, Lustleigh & East Dartmoor30

New Clusters

Ashburton and Buckfastleigh

Sidbury, Offwell and Beer

Heathfield and Liverton

Previously reported cluster now under 3 cases (data suppressed)

Ilfracombe West

Westward Ho! and Northam South

Westward Ho! and Northam South

Right to scrap First Past the Post won for Welsh councils

Imagine just for a second that local government could be reformed to ensure people are more engaged, their votes matter and their voices are properly heard. That rather than putting up barriers to participating in democracy, those barriers were stripped away.

[See below for link to petition to extend this to local elections in England]

Jessica Blair http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk 

That is what has happened tonight in Wales as the Welsh Parliament/Senedd voted 39-16 to pass the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill, a significant piece of legislation which transforms local elections and revolutionises the way councils operate. 

The bill includes several ways to improve and expand Welsh democracy, changes that ERS Cymru have been fighting hard to achieve.

The Single Transferable Vote comes to Wales

This legislation is the first in Wales to introduce the Single Transferable Vote (STV) into Welsh elections. For the first time councils will have the chance to move to a system that gives voters more choice, ensures their vote counts and delivers greater representation. A huge victory for campaigners of electoral reform in Wales. Because of this Bill individual councils will now get to vote on whether to move from the ineffective First Past the Post System to STV, potentially ending years of uncontested seats and disproportionate results. Across the border in England, all local authorities will remain stuck with a system that doesn’t effectively deliver for voters.

Votes for 16 and 17 year olds in local elections

The bill will also open up our democracy to those previously shut out, extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds and to all foreign citizens legally resident in Wales. The franchise, which was previously extended for next year’s Senedd elections, will mean a whole new generation of voters will now have a say on the future of their local area. It leaves England and Northern Ireland as the only two nations in the United Kingdom that systematically denies the right to young people to have their say on critical issues which affect their day to day lives.

Automatic Voter Registration

The bill also paves the way for an overhaul of our outdated and ineffective system of voter registration. The bill could lead to a new system where registration officers can identify people missing from the register and let them know they’ll be added. This will go a long way in addressing the problems caused by the lack of integration between council services and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to vote come election day.

Changes will now also come into effect for the 2022 elections that put the emphasis on councils to better engage people living in their community. Councils will soon be required to publish strategies boosting participation in their area as well as develop and run petitions schemes allowing constituents to call for change on an issue affecting them.

The bill will also go some way to addressing issues with diversity. At the last elections in 2017 just 28% of those elected as councillors were women. While further work will need to be done here measures are being put in place to allow for job sharing in cabinet roles and greater training around diversity for members.

A victory for voters

All of this will see fundamental changes to the way local democracy works in Wales. We’ve been calling for these changes for a long time and now, thanks to this legislation, we’ve got them. Over the next few years we should see local authorities being brought into the modern era and making voters their priority and see our local democracy begin to thrive.

All of this change in Wales leaves us to ask ‘Why can’t England do the same?’ 

Urgent reform is required to deliver a fairer and more representative local government in England. With Scotland already leading the way on proportional representation and now Wales joining the cause for fairer votes surely England must be next. Eyes should be on Westminster to follow suit with a string of reforms to our local democracy and make sure voters all across the UK are fairly represented.

All local elections should be via STV – sign our petition today

The Hugh Kay Lecture: Are we in a post-Nolan age?

Nolan principles: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

The post-Nolan accusation is that our public culture is changing for the worse. Quite simply, the perception is taking root that too many in public life, including some in our political leadership, are choosing to disregard the norms of ethics and propriety that have explicitly governed public life for the last 25 years, and that, when contraventions of ethical standards occur, nothing happens.


Lord Evans, Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, gave the Hugh Kay Lecture at the Institute of Business Ethics.

Thank you, I am very pleased to be doing this – there is a long relationship between CSPL and IBE, we operate in different spheres but have a lot of interests in common.

Today I am going to ask whether we are in a post Nolan age.

In recent months we’ve heard a new phrase used by academics, commentators, and members of the public who have an interest in public standards. That phrase is a “post-Nolan age”.

Similar sentiments appear in messages received by my Committee over the past few months in our public mailbox:

“I feel a great sadness that the moral framework which has guided British public life for the past quarter century appears to be well and truly over”, said one email.

“I am not a member of any political party but very concerned at the erosion of democracy and honesty. I fear for my children and their children having to live with the consequences of the lack of public accountability”.

These members of the public are concerned by the perception that those in public life no longer feel obliged to follow the so-called Nolan principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership – otherwise known as the Seven Principles of Public Life.

These principles have long underpinned the spirit of public service in this country, and were first formally articulated in Lord Nolan’s seminal 1995 report – the first from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, of which I now am the Chairman.

In this lecture I would like to talk about why the Nolan principles are still relevant, indeed critical, for the health of our public life – both for those in public office and others, who run businesses, why we we need effective arrangements to underpin the Principles, why some feel that those arrangements are under pressure and what can be done about it.

Since 1995 it has been increasingly accepted that anyone in public service should act in accordance with the Seven Principles. The Principles apply to Ministers and MPs, all civil servants, local government officials, public bodies, the NHS, agencies as well as private companies and charities delivering services on behalf of the taxpayer.

To a sceptical eye the Principles may appear to be little more than a list of moral generalities that serve no practical purpose.

But this is to miss the scale and scope of their impact. These Principles are not a rulebook. They are a guide to institutional administration and personal conduct, and are given a hard edge when they inform law, policy, procedure and Codes of Conduct.

In their essence, the Seven Principles are there to govern the legitimate use of entrusted power in public life. All of us in public life, whether through democratic election or public appointment, have some degree of power afforded to us on the public’s behalf, whether it is the power to make decisions on benefits, to spend money on schools, to legislate to protect public health or to influence debate. This power is lent to us to be used for the good of the public.

This is where the principles take effect. It is a norm in UK democracy that, for example, we expect office-holders to use public funds for the common good, and not to enrich themselves or their families. We expect elected representatives to work for their vision of the common good, rather than acting for their own personal advantage. And we take for granted, that there should be fairness in the decision-making processes – in areas such as policy, planning, and procurement – that will shape our future.

Imagine a democracy without ethical standards. A political system where there are free elections, but where those elected make decisions solely in the interests of their supporters or paymasters; where public funds are systematically diverted to private purses; or where policy is sold to the highest bidder. Such a corrupt system is not democracy in any real sense. Democracy means more than just an elected dictatorship.

To be elected or appointed and to receive a publicly funded salary may place an individual in public office. But fulfilling the requirements of that office means recognising and upholding the ethical requirements that underpin it.

The Seven Principles, tested regularly through research over the last 25 years, outline this implicit contract between those that govern and the governed, setting the terms for the acceptable exercise of power. And at no other time in our post-war history has this contract been more important, when our government is asking its citizens to live with major restrictions and changes to their daily lives.

Elections and institutions give us a constitutional framework, but the Seven Principles of Public Life define the character of our political system. Lord Nolan’s Principles remain as essential to the functioning of our democracy now as they did 25 years ago. They articulate a long-standing model of public life in this country.

At the time of Lord Nolan’s report, business had just begun to work in the public sector. Public service delivery models have moved on since then, and even before this pandemic the government spent around a third of public expenditure – over £280 billion a year – on goods or services provided by private companies. Today, in many areas, private companies deliver public services directly, and so in 2013 the government made clear that any organisation delivering services on behalf of the taxpayer is also subject to the Seven Principles of Public Life.

Outsourcing services like healthcare, prisons, transport, education does not mean outsourcing this ethical contract with the public. It does not mean that the Nolan Principles are set aside. Our own research with the public on this issue came back with a really clear message – they did not particularly care whether it was the public or private sector providing the service, what they wanted was common standards.

The Committee has reported twice on public service providers in recent years. We recognise that the application of public sector norms to private sector companies is not without its difficulties. Where does the obligation to the public good sit against a company’s legal obligation to its shareholders? Where does the principle of selflessness fit in?

Nevertheless, business leaders increasingly recognise that they have responsibilities that go beyond mere shareholder value alone. Public standards and business ethics are rarely if ever in conflict. Both form the basis of sound decision-making and good corporate governance. Governments and businesses that assess evidence objectively, that make decisions on the basis of long-term goals, and those that are not swayed by the temptations of personal advantage at the expense of collective gain, are more likely to succeed in the longer term than those who do not.

Our reports pressed government to do more to clarify and demand high standards of conduct for businesses operating in the public sector and set out how businesses aiming to supply government could demonstrate that they are living up to those standards.

High profile contract failures – and the subsequent impact on the public – continue to make the case for shared ethical standards.

And as government demands these standards from business, business should also ask the same of government. High standards are mutually beneficial. Public standards make the UK a more attractive commercial environment. Where the Seven Principles underpin proper process and procedure, government decisions are predictable and trustworthy. Businesses can plan long-term investment in the knowledge that government decision-making rests on sound ethical foundations and can, if necessary, be challenged in strong and independent courts. An issue of central importance in my view.

Low public standards should, therefore, be as worrying to business as they are to my Committee. I noted with interest very recently – and this adds weight to the post-Nolan argument – that Moody’s downgraded the UK’s credit rating and I think in part due to “the weakening in the UK’s institutions and governance”.

So what are those structures and institutions that constitute the British standards regime?

The Guardian’s breaking of the ‘cash-for-questions’ scandal prompted then Prime Minister Sir John Major to ask Lord Nolan to examine the arrangements that govern standards of propriety in public life. Nolan concluded that although a vast majority of those in political life and public office were of exemplary moral standing, it was not enough to rely on personal character, and that procedures for enforcing standards needed strengthening.

And so began what Professors David Hine and Gillian Peele have called quote the “long march of the Committee on Standards in Public Life”. Over the past 25 years, the following regulatory mechanisms have been established and evolved:

The House of Commons and House of Lords Commissioners for Standards, to set and oversee published Codes of Conduct;

A Ministerial Code, owned and published by the Prime Minister, supported by the Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests;

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which separated expenses from the House Authorities to support MPs and protect the taxpayer;

The Electoral Commission, which ensures the fairness of our elections, and aspects of whose work are currently being reviewed by my Committee;

An independent Commissioner for Public Appointments, to ensure that ministerial appointments to public boards are made fairly and on the basis of merit, rather than patronage;

A statutory Civil Service Commission, to regulate appointments and act as an appeal mechanism for civil servants who want to raise concerns against the Civil Service Code.

And a number of significant reforms have been made to address lobbying and improve standards in local government, accompanied by a necessary revolution in the transparency of party funding, ministers’ appointments on leaving office, and MPs’ expenses and second jobs.

Cumulatively, there is no doubt that Hine and Peele were correct to call these changes a “profound transformation of the landscape of British government” over the last 25 years.

I would also like to recognise the role of the free media in all this. While there may be concerns about some excesses, their role in uncovering and highlighting standards issues is vital for scrutiny and helping to ensure ethical conduct. I can recall myself when I first became the head of MI5 a wise colleague advising not to do anything I would be embarrassed to see in the Sunday papers. A free media is a useful safeguard.

But if this process of institutional innovation has succeeded in implementing Lord Nolan’s vision, why are there voices today who worry that we are living in a post-Nolan world?

It was the renowned business theorist Peter Drucker who coined the famous aphorism that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. The business world has long been aware that in organisations, behaviour is shaped by culture at least as much by codified structure as by policy.

Lord Nolan would have agreed. His wise report advocated greater education about standards recognising that though formal regulation was essential, high public standards were ultimately a question of organisational culture and, critically, of personal responsibility.

“Culture” is not easy to define. On a personal note over the past 7 or so years, since I have been working in the private sector, I have lost count of the number of meetings that discussed culture programmes and their complexities. But we can recognise it when we see it. High ethical principles will be integrated into everyday decision-making processes. Innovation will seek to translate the principles into new contexts, rather than leave them behind. There will be adherence to norms, procedures, and processes of good governance with trusted outcomes. And of course, visible ethical leadership – the right tone from the top is an essential element of any culture transformation.

The post-Nolan accusation is that our public culture is changing for the worse. Quite simply, the perception is taking root that too many in public life, including some in our political leadership, are choosing to disregard the norms of ethics and propriety that have explicitly governed public life for the last 25 years, and that, when contraventions of ethical standards occur, nothing happens.

But if someone acts in ways that breaks the rules or violates the principles, they should be answerable for their conduct. Many are questioning if this is still the case today. In fact the Nolan principles are there in part to underline that those in office have ethical responsibilities which they should comply with, even if they can get away with not doing so – ‘doing the right thing even if no one is watching’. However, the nature of partisan Parliamentary politics can mean that the issue becomes not whether someone acted correctly or not, but whether there is the political will to deal with it.

It would be remiss at this stage not to mention – as again Lord Nolan noted 25 years ago – the commitment of the vast majority of public servants to the highest standards of conduct. Our public sector culture is a positive one. This pandemic has caused some concerns, but it has also demonstrated the overwhelming dedication of our nurses, our doctors, police, local government officials, civil servants and MPs to a public service ethos, often under intense stress and strains. And I would add that many in the private sector have shown similar dedication.

And having taken a step back, it’s unrealistic to think there has never been a scandal-free ‘golden age’ of British politics. Winston Churchill’s financial arrangements as a Member of Parliament would today raise many questions. “Cash for questions’ and “sleaze” dominated in the 90s, party funding and expenses were the standards issues of the 00s, and lobbying concerns in the 2010s. Governments of all stripes have faced accusations that they are bending the rules to their advantage. Research carried out by my Committee from 2002 to 2014 revealed that the British public perceived standards in public life as low and declining. But then again research in the 1940s found the same.

The “post-Nolan” analysis also ignores some of the considerable successes of the last 25 years. The Principles are embedded in most public sector institutions, and there are now well-established regulators able to consider standards issues in a particular context. MPs’ expenses are now transparent. Parliamentary commissioners of standards in the Commons and the Lords have considerable powers of investigation and a range of sanctions. The public appointments regime is hugely developed in comparison to 25 years ago when a ‘tap on the shoulder’ was the norm. The National Audit Office is scrutinising government Coronavirus contracts as we speak. The Principles themselves have been consistent since 1995 while practice has been flexible and has changed and developed. In many areas of public life, those seeking to act that breach the Principles of Public Life will come up against formidable institutional obstacles.

Nevertheless, there are reasons for real concern. And I’d like to give some examples.

There can be little doubt that the handling of Richard Desmond’s proposed scheme to redevelop the Westferry Printworks knocked public confidence in the fairness of the planning system and as far as I am aware there has been no independent investigation into conduct concerns that the Ministerial Code had been breached.

The bullying allegations made against the Home Secretary were investigated by the Cabinet Office but the outcome of that investigation has not been published, though completed some months ago. There may be legal complexities underlying this but those have not been made clear and this does not build confidence in the accountability of government.

In both cases, it is not necessarily the outcome of the investigation that is the problem. Rather, it is the fact that the process for dealing with allegations of ministerial impropriety are not transparent or independent, so accountability is limited. In its current state, there is little reason for the public to trust this process and its outcomes.

And other parts of our standards regulation are under pressure too – namely our public appointments regime, as the independent Public Appointments Commissioner recently made clear in his evidence to the Public and Constitutional Affairs Committee. Lord Nolan was clear that Ministers should retain the final say on who to appoint but that it is not “necessary or desirable to make affiliation a criterion for appointment”. It is not unusual or wrong for governments to want to appoint people who share their views; and political activity is not a bar but cannot be a reason for appointment. Merit must be at the heart of the system, not cronyism or patronage. A fair and open appointment process for leaders of organisations and public bodies is necessary for public trust in our institutions – and also to attract talented people to these important roles.

Public expenditure is back in the spotlight. The suspension of normal procurement rules has exposed the public purse to an unprecedented level of risk. Process-free procurement creates the opportunity for cronyism and distrust. It is no surprise that allegations are rife that contracts are awarded to those with political ties to the government. These may be unfounded, but without proper process the public won’t know. I am therefore pleased that the National Audit Office is, quite rightly, looking at Coronavirus procurement.

And finally, governments past and present have been too easily tempted to disregard the norms of democratic accountability. Proper scrutiny and debate may be perceived as a hindrance but our parliamentary processes undoubtedly improve the quality of government decision-making and the laws that are passed. The principle of ministerial accountability underpins the legitimacy of office and cannot be substituted for the firing and hiring of senior civil servants. Mounting public disquiet is not without foundation.

It’s not the role of my Committee to investigate alleged breaches of the rules, and I’m not drawing conclusions in any of the cases alluded to in this list – but nor is this list exhaustive. Taken together, these issues lead some to believe there is a culture of impunity seeping into British governance.

It’s possible for politicians to say that the judge of whether they have acted appropriately is the electorate – ‘let them judge, and if they don’t like what we’ve done, they can kick us out.’ That populist reading of the character of the constitution and its system of accountability effectively claims impunity for government actions from anything other than the ballot-box. The accountability of ministers to Parliament, the regulations governing the use of special advisors, the clarity about who is taking which decisions on the basis of what judgments about the evidence, adherence to the normal rules of political practice – all that can fall by the wayside in the name of electoral mandate.

If that is the world we are in, then we really would be ‘post-Nolan’. But we should recognize how much of our public life would also have changed. This affects not only those in politics: it remodels the framework within which civil servants and a whole range of public officials operate and leaves them without grounds for questioning the basis on which decisions are made, policies developed or contracts awarded. A populist reading of government responsibility erodes the independence of the administration and the quality of public service delivery – and often does so intentionally. It makes them wholly subordinate to politics.

This is like turning football into a game where the rules are set by the crowd. While the crowd is certainly sometimes right, giving it direct authority over the game and its rules changes the game fundamentally. It also raises questions as to how far the crowd is being manipulated in ways they do not themselves recognize, by whom, and for what purposes. And it obscures the distinction between those who can make most noise, and the interests of the public at large.

So if there are genuine and valid concerns underlying the post-Nolan allegation, what is to be done?

Maintaining standards in public life – like maintaining standards in business – takes sustained work. Sorry to say that there is no silver bullet. But nor am I shaking my head in despair.

An expectation of adherence to high standards of conduct applies, in the UK, both to public officials and to those in elected office. For public officials, standards of conduct can be laid down as a condition of employment and thus are more readily enforceable. In this way the system for officials is analogous to arrangements in the private sector. But it’s more complex for those in elected office who owe their positions to the democratic choice of their electors. (And I suppose I should add that it is even more complex for Members of the House of Lords like me who are neither employed nor elected, but let us not stray into that particular thicket!)

It remains the case, however – in politics, public service, and business – that ethical standards are first and foremost a matter of personal responsibility. Everyone – from ministers and Chief Executives to junior staff and officials – must choose to uphold in their everyday work the ethical values their organisations proclaim. Culture programmes can encourage good practice, and regulators can encourage compliance, but ultimately high public standards are a decision for the individual. Few systems are sufficiently robust to constrain those who would deliberately undermine them.

The position for the government itself is more problematic. Ministers have a responsibility to abide by the Ministerial Code, which is partly a guide to standards and partly an instruction manual on Cabinet government. The Prime Minister specifically mentions standards in public life in the Code’s foreword. But enforcement of the Code lies ultimately with the Prime Minister. This can leave the Prime Minister in an invidious position, faced with the dilemma of how to avoid political damage on the one hand, and how to maintain standards of conduct on the other.

The Prime Minister has an Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests but the Adviser currently has no independent power to initiate investigations and, even when an investigation is undertaken, no ability to publish the outcome. My Committee has previously called for more independence to be afforded to the Adviser and I continue to believe that this may be a necessary step. Current arrangements quite clearly fall short of the normal processes of standards regulation. In no other area – including parliament – is the investigatory process so limited and politicised. Whilst sanctions must remain in the hands of the Prime Minister, as ministers are exclusively political appointments, there is no reason for the investigatory process to be so. We will be looking at these arrangements as part of our latest review in order to ensure high standards of transparency and accountability, and such a change would also free Prime Ministers from their current uncomfortable dilemma while still leaving them with the power to take action, or not, as they judge necessary.

There are weaknesses and unfinished business in the standards structures which is why my Committee is keen to hear from business, the public and those who work for the public, in our current landscape review, Standards Matters 2. The strength of the Committee – and probably why it has lasted as a rather strange quirk of the constitution – is in hearing from all sides on tricky issues, assessing the evidence and suggesting improvements.

CSPL is not a regulator. We are part of a complex machinery of checks and balances where our role is to monitor that machinery, improve it and identify areas where it’s deficient. But the spate of concerns expressed about adherence to our standards framework and the Seven Principles of Public Life should not be ignored.

The government’s ability to lead the country through the Coronavirus crisis will be strengthened, rather than undermined, by an adherence to high standards. You can’t fight a pandemic if people do not trust the government. A clear commitment to Honesty, Objectivity and Accountability, and Leadership as outlined in the Nolan Principles, would seem to me a good place to start if you want to maintain public trust.

There are many reasons to doubt that we are truly post-Nolan. We are not at a point where we have lost trust in nurses, teachers, council officers or benefits staff. We may be cynical about politics, but few people believe their own MP to be corrupt.

This turbulent and divisive time in our national life – and overseas – will eventually have to come to an end. Politicians of all colours will need to focus on ways to bring a divided public with them. This will undeniably involve looking for the common ground and common standards.

The Nolan Principles, far from being a thing of the past, provide the standards and tools we need to find a clear route through.

Thank you.