Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Junior doctors issue High Court legal challenge

Junior doctors issue High Court legal challenge


Medics aim to raise emergency funding to provide security for government costs

Junior doctors have issued High Court proceedings against the government today, claiming that the secretary of state for health does not have the legal power to impose his 'unplanned and dangerous' contract on them.

Justice for Health, a company formed by a group of junior doctors opposed to Jeremy Hunt MP's reforms, argue that the health secretary's 'decision to impose' a new contract was not lawful, that he failed to undertake a proper consultation prior to announcing his imposition, and that the decision itself was 'irrational and hasty'.

The group, backed by prominent medical staff and patient safety advocates, needed to raise an initial £25,000 through crowdfunding to allow Bindmans to start investigation for judicial review proceedings.

This target was then extended by an additional £115,000 to establish a working case fund. The medics are now calling for a further £30,000 to cover the government's costs should they lose their challenge.

A statement on the group's CrowdJustice fundraising page reads: 'We are asking for emergency funding for costs protection for an independent legal action.

'We are confident that our action will show that the secretary of state for health does not have power to impose this unplanned and dangerous contract that will affect patient wellbeing and safety, we are therefore issuing legal proceedings today.

'The [secretary of state] has demanded a £30,000 "deposit" to cover costs in the unlikely event that the judge finds in his favour. We urgently need to raise this additional secured funding to allow us to proceed with our case.

'This is an all-or-nothing target and without your support we cannot continue to seek justice for our NHS.'

A letter from the Government Legal Department (GLD), seen by the Guardian, suggests that the health secretary is retreating from his claim that he has the right to impose the contract on junior doctors.

The five-page letter, sent by the government's lawyers to Bindmans, explained that the health secretary is legally entitled to 'proceed with the introduction of a new contract' under the NHS Act 2006.

As with the British Medical Association's separate judicial review, the GLD's letter dismisses the junior doctors' claim as 'misconceived'.

Speaking to SJ earlier this month, Saimo Chahal QC, the Bindmans partner representing the junior doctors, said: 'There are particular concerns over the legality of the "decision" and the secretary of state's powers and whether he can indeed impose the contract.'

In another letter seen by the Guardian, the joint head of the firm's public law team said Hunt was 'clinging to the fiction that he had a legal power to make this decision'.

For the fifth time in recent months, junior doctors are due to strike, this time on 26 and 27 April.

From left to right in picture: Dr Nadia Masood, Dr Marie-Estella McVeigh, Dr Francesca Silman, and Dr Ben White. Images credited to Alexander Christie.