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Court of Appeal dismisses cases
against Lord Chancellor

22 November 2001 - The Court of Appeal has dismissed the cases of Jane Coker and Martha Osamor against the Lord Chancellor. The two women had claimed that the process by which the Lord Chancellor had appointed his special adviser - selecting him from a small, mostly white male group of people he already knew - indirectly discriminated against them, on grounds of sex and race.

The Court based its decision on the view that the Lord Chancellor had required his special adviser to be personally known to him and that "because those members of the elite pool who were personally known to the Lord Chancellor were on the unchallenged evidence reduced to a single man" they held that this meant that the appointment could not constitute indirect sex or race discrimination.

However, the Court noted, "it does not follow that this practice is unobjectionable. It will often be open to objection for a number of reasons. It may not produce the best candidate for the post. It may be likely to result in the appointee being of a particular gender or racial group. It may infringe the principle of equal opportunities."

Julie Mellor, Chair of the EOC, said:

"This is a disappointing decision. The Government has said it is committed to raising standards in public life. To achieve that goal it needs to ensure it uses transparent recruitment procedures to select from a wide pool of people. Otherwise it leaves itself open to accusations of cronyism.

"In its recent report on special advisers, the Select Committee on Public Administration referred to Sir Richard Wilson's view that the public needed reassurance that the people appointed as special advisers are the best people for the job.

"Women and ethnic minorities are still under-represented in senior positions in all professions and in political and public life in this country. The Government should lead the way in improving this position by ensuring it draws on the talents of a more diverse range of people."

Previous articles

17 January 2001 - The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) gave permission for Jane Coker and Martha Osamor to appeal against the decision announced today. The EAT had considered whether the procedure used by the Lord Chancellor to appoint his special adviser was discriminatory (see background below).

The Lord Chancellor had appealed against the original decision. He won at the EAT by a majority of 2 to 1 on two of his grounds of appeal. There was a unanimous decision against him on the other two grounds.

Julie Mellor, Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission said:

"The Tribunal's decision is very disappointing. We still believe that appointments of all kinds should be made in a transparent way and that candidates should be drawn from a broad range of people. This is a key issue for the Government to address if it is really committed to raising standards in public life. By saying he will appoint an independent commissioner to advise him on judicial appointments the Lord Chancellor has already acknowledged the importance of impartiality in making appointments."

Jane Coker said:

"The gender and race profile of special advisers appointed by this Cabinet reflects the gender and race profile of the Cabinet, which demonstrates the discriminatory nature of the process. The EAT has said that there are special cases which fall outside the scope of discrimination legislation and codes of practice. This effectively means that someone important who wants to appoint a particular person to a job can avoid the anti-discrimination legislation."

Martha Osamor said:

"I am very shocked by the decision. I believe it is wrong in law and retrograde. The Government preaches inclusion and yet this decision appears to mean they can exclude women and black people from the pool of people they consider when making appointments."

6 November 2000 - The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) will support the cases of Jane Coker and Martha Osamor at the Employment Appeal Tribunal. Last year the women claimed at an employment tribunal that the way in which the Lord Chancellor appointed a special adviser effectively discriminated against them.

According to the Chair of the EOC, Julie Mellor:

'Government that says it is committed to raising standards in public life needs to practice what it preaches and address the issue of how these kinds of appointments are made. Failing to do so leaves those who make the appointments open to accusations of cronyism.

'The Lord Chancellor recently announced he would be appointing an independent commissioner to advise him on judicial appointments, so he clearly realises the importance of impartiality in reaching such decisions. The arguments against his method of appointing his special adviser are exactly the same as those against the traditional way of appointing judges.

'Having transparent selection procedures and recruiting from a wide pool of people not only helps employers ensure they are not discriminating against certain groups of people, it also enables them to appoint the best people for the job.'

Jane Coker is a solicitor with Ms Coker has 20 years experience of legal aid, community matters, immigration law and law centre and legal policy matters. Shewon her claim of indirect sex discrimination at the tribunal in May 1999 but the Lord Chancellor is appealing against this decision. The EAT had found that the way in which Lord Irvine appointed his special adviser was meant that the successful candidate had to be personally known to him. The EAT concluded that this requirement was more of a barrier to women than to men because the group of people Lord Irving knew included more men than women. Jane Coker commented:

'Government ministers should be leading the way in improving employment practices, not perpetuating outdated ways of working. There are still far fewer women than men in senior positions in almost all professions and in public and political life. Appointing people in the way the Lord Chancellor chose his adviser makes it harder for women to reach such positions.'

Martha Osamor is a legal adviser. She has worked for 20 years in the areas of juvenile crime, immigration and family work. She claimed sex and race discrimination. But she lost her indirect discrimination claims because the tribunal did not consider that she met the requirements of the position. Martha Osamor is appealing against this decision with the added supported of the Commission for Racial Equality. Ms Osamor said:

'I believe it is fundamentally wrong that we were denied the opportunity of even applying for the position of the Lord Chancellor's special adviser. I hope our cases will lead to a fairer and more transparent system of appointments in future.'

The Employment Appeal Tribunal hearing will take place in London on 28-29 November.


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