The Law Centres Network is initiating a legal challenge to Government’s decision to award the contract for operating the national discrimination advice helpline to G4S, a large multi-national corporation. We are asking the High Court to quash the G4S contract and for a new tender to be run, correcting faults in the previous contracting process.
We argue that government did not properly assess the shortcomings of the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS) with stakeholders; nor did it properly consider how to reform EASS with the equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
We also claim that Government failed to properly consider G4S’s equality and human rights record in the many other public services it has delivered. As a large employer of over 45,000 people in the UK, G4S also faces a conflict of interest in providing a service that its own employees might need to consult.
“This case concerns the legal duty on the government to assess the equalities impact of procurement decisions. One would expect a high degree of compliance where the Government Equalities Office was the decision maker and the service being procured was an equalities advice line.”
An online petition against awarding the EASS contract to G4S has attracted over 59,000 signatures so far. The petition was started by SumOfUs.org, a global consumer organisation, which has also been crowdfunding among its UK members to support this legal action.
Sondhya Gupta, senior campaigner with SomeOfUs.org, commented:
“With hate crimes and discrimination on the rise in post-Brexit Britain, the kind of support that EASS provides is more important than ever. G4S is a company that has routinely put profits over public safety [...] The company has been caught overcharging taxpayers by millions - while dodging its own taxes. This decision is a kick in the teeth to everyone who faces disability, race or sex discrimination.”
Today we also join over 40 organisations in voicing our concerns about the choice of G4S in particular to deliver such a sensitive service. These concerns are raised in a joint letter sent by charity Liberty on our behalf to the chairs of the Women and Equalities Committee (Maria Miller MP) and the Joint Committee on Human Rights (Harriet Harman MP).
The letter comes as the House of Lords is set to discuss EASS, in debating a recent report by the Equality Act and Disability Select Committee. The report has recommended that EASS be managed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, but Government has rejected this recommendation without explanation.
Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, head of policy at the Law Centres Network, said:
“This legal action is about ensuring access to justice for some of the most disadvantaged and often vulnerable people in society. It is already difficult for people to access appropriate advice on discrimination, which is a complex area of law. Our concern, also raised in the joint letter, is that government does all it should to ensure that the most suitable provider is chosen, and that the service is effective.”
Government is expected to respond to our initial letter by Thursday, 8 September 2016. Based on its response, LCN will consider its next steps.
In the media
- Campaigners demand investigation into G4S discrimination helpline contract [Guardian]
- Call for inquiry into why G4S was awarded Government contract for anti-discrimination hotline [Independent]
- 39 human rights groups demand legal scrutiny of G4S contract for equality helpline [Buzzfeed]
- Court challenge over equalities helpline contract [The Brief - from The Times]
- Law Centres to challenge rights helpline contract [Law Society Gazette]
- Government facing JR over equality advice helpline contract [Solicitors Journal]
- Calls for urgent rethink after controversial firm G4S is awarded contract for discrimination helpline [The National]
- Law Centres challenge award of contract for discrimination helpline to G4S [Local Government Lawyer]
For further information about this story please contact:
- Pamela Judge, Communications Manager, Law Centres Network tel. 01239 711041
- Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, Head of Policy and Public Relations, Law Centres Network tel. 0203 637 1330