Jeremy Hunt 'abused power' over junior doctor contract, court will hear

Jeremy Hunt's decision to introduce a new junior doctor contract is an abuse of power, lacks clarity and is irrational, a judicial review will hear next week.

Justice for Health – a campaign group established by five junior doctors, including two GP trainees, issued a legal challenge ‘against the imposition of an unsafe and unsustainable contract on the junior doctors’ earlier this year.

A judicial review will be held next week on Monday 19 and Tuesday 20 September at the Royal Courts of Justice, London.

The group will argue that the defendant – Mr Hunt – ‘acted outside of his powers’, ‘failed in his duty of clarity to parliament and the public’ and has ‘been irrational in his decision-making’.

Junior doctor contract

The group's legal challenge is backed by £300,000, a record-breaking sum raised on the crowdfunding website Crowdjustice.

Over 10,000 people donated to the cause after several rounds of fundraising to meet all the required costs of action.

‘We argue that the [secretary of state for health] SoS does not have the legal power to impose a contract on training doctors and has been acting ultra vires in taking this decision. The SoS only has the power to agree a contract with the BMA,’ said founding member Dr Ben White.

‘We argue that through his lack of clarity, Mr. Hunt has repeatedly misled parliament, the public and the NHS bodies that are currently implementing the contract under his instruction. This is clearly a breach of his ministerial duty of candour,’ said Dr Nadia Masood, another founding member.

The revised junior doctor contract is scheduled to be introduced from 5 October. Junior doctors have planned five-day all-out strikes every month until the end of the year unless the government backs down and returns to negotiations, although an initial five-day strike planned for September was cancelled after NHS England warned it needed more time to manage the disruption.

Mr Hunt said in July that implementing the contract despite junior doctors' opposition to it was ‘the best way to help the NHS move on from this long-running contractual dispute and focus our efforts on providing the safest, highest quality care for patients’.

He added: ‘It is also important to note that even though we are proceeding without consensus, this decision is not a rejection of the legitimate concerns of many junior doctors about their working conditions. Junior doctors are some of the hardest working staff in the NHS, working some of the longest and most unsocial hours including many weekends.’

Justice for Health’s case against Mr Hunt:

Ground 1:

a. The Secretary of State has purported to have and to exercise a power to determine the terms and conditions on which junior doctors will be employed.

b. Whether the Secretary of State’s decisions are characterised as "introducing" or "implementing" or "imposing" the new contract, the reality is that the Secretary of State has no power to act as a decision-maker in this regard (whether solely or jointly with others) and/or to take a decision as to the terms and conditions on which NHS bodies and other employers should employ junior doctors.

c. Whilst the Secretary of State would be entitled to recommend a new contract, he has plainly attempted or purported to go significantly further than a mere recommendation or the expression of opinion or approval for the new contract.

Ground 2:

d. The Secretary of State has failed to make the true nature of his decision clear and has acted in breach of the requirements of transparency, certainty and clarity.

Ground 3:

e. The Secretary of State has acted irrationally.

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