Junior doctors hopeful of contract victory as judicial review begins second day

Junior doctors behind the Justice for Health campaign against the imposition of a new contract say they are hopeful of victory as the second and final day of their high court dispute with health secretary Jeremy Hunt begins.

Justice for Health: Dr Ben White, Dr Marie-Estella McVeigh, Dr Amar Mashru, Dr Francesca Silman and Dr Nadia Masood
Justice for Health: Dr Ben White, Dr Marie-Estella McVeigh, Dr Amar Mashru, Dr Francesca Silman and Dr Nadia Masood

Justice for Health put forward a ‘very compelling argument’ against Mr Hunt during the first day in court on Monday, said Dr Francesca Silman, a GP trainee and one of the five junior doctors who founded the campaign group.

The group – which also includes GP trainee Dr Marie-Estella McVeigh, Dr Nadia Masood, Dr Ben White and Dr Amar Mashru – argue that the health secretary’s decision to introduce the new junior doctor contract is an abuse of power, is irrational and lacks clarity.

The first day in court on Monday saw Justice for Health’s legal team outline their case against Jeremy Hunt, after which his legal team was allowed to respond to their claims.

In the second and final day, the defence team will finish outlining their counter argument before Justice for Health can respond to their points. The defence is then allowed a further response.

Junior doctor contract

Speaking from outside the high court in London after the first day's proceedings, Dr Silman told GPonline: ‘It was a really interesting day in court – we heard most of our arguments put forward, which I thought was very compelling.

‘I think our case is very strong. It was a promising day – it’s interesting to see how the other side tries to justify what has gone on. It’s hard to judge it, but we’re quite happy with how day one has gone.’

One of the key points rests on whether Justice for Health can convince the judge that trusts came under pressure to adopt the new junior doctor contract because Mr Hunt failed to spell out publicly that they did not have to adopt it if he advised they do so.

Justice for Health lawyers claimed Mr Hunt had not made it clear in parliamentary discussions that he did not have the power to impose or introduce a new junior doctor contract on hospital trusts.

But DH lawyers argued that the health secretary did not need to do this, as trust managers and those involved in this decision were aware of the extent of his powers.

They also argued that Mr Hunt’s statements fell under the protection of parliamentary privilege.

‘They're saying he wasn’t imposing, he was just agreeing with the employers who wanted this contract imposed,’ said Dr Silman.

‘Their argument was everyone knew behind the scenes – they were saying the parliamentary discussions didn’t need to be clear because everyone knew what their powers were.

‘They're very much relying on parliamentary privilege in their defence, so it will be interesting to see what the judge decides on that.’

She added that DH lawyers had agreed Mr Hunt does not have the power to impose the contract.

‘But there's a difference between his lawyers agreeing with us and him telling trusts to use this contract, with very directive language. There are no words like "we suggest" or "recommend" you use this contract.

‘So there's a gap there, and it’s whether we can we convince the judge that that gap is a huge, clear gap, and it should send the judgment in our favour.’

The judge – Mr Justice Green – will give his verdict next week, on Wednesday 28 September.

The junior doctor contract is set to be introduced from October, despite being rejected by a majority of junior doctors who took part in a BMA ballot. The BMA is planning to hold a five-day junior doctor strike each month until the end of the year over the contract dispute.

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