How did Matt Hancock break the law? What did the health secretary do, was it unlawful - and has he apologised

Mr Hancock claimed there had been no shortage of PPE during the Covid pandemic in an interview with Piers Morgan on ITV’s GMB programme

As the country's health secretary, Matt Hancock has been at the centre of tackling the Covid crisis since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Mr Hancock has played a part in the government's response to the coronavirus and been a regular presence at the Downing Street briefings.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

That has led to many tough questions from the media and the public - none more so than when the High Court ruled he had breached the law.

Health secretary Matt Hancock claimed there had been no shortage of PPE in an interview with Piers Morgan on ITV’s GMB programme. (Pic: PA)

Read More

Read More
When will golf courses open? Date you may be able to play golf again in England ...

What did Matt Hancock do?

In obtaining supplies, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), Mr Hancock failed to disclose details of contracts within the required time period according to law.

Mr Hancock had a legal obligation to publish details of contracts within 30 days of them being awarded for public goods or services worth more than £120,000 to the taxpayer.

Furthermore, the government has its own transparency policy which requires contractual details worth £10,000 or more to be published in the public's interest.

Did Matt Hancock break the law?

A High Court ruled that Mr Hancock has "breached his legal obligation" by not making the details of the contracts awarded during the Covid pandemic public knowledge.

Mr Justice Chamberlain said: "There is now no dispute that, in a substantial number of cases, the secretary of state breached his legal obligation to publish contract award notices within 30 days of the award of contracts.

"There is also no dispute that the secretary of state failed to publish redacted contracts in accordance with the transparency policy."

Mr Chamberlain added: "The public were entitled to see who this money was going to, what it was being spent on and how the relevant contracts were awarded."

The financial sums spent by Mr Hancock on purchasing Covid-related goods and services during 2020 were described as "vast quantities" by the presiding judge.

Why should the contract details be made public?

As well as being in the public's interest, Mr Chamberlain also said that by publishing the details of the contracts it allowed competitors to better understand the process.

In helping with transparency, the government also invites parliament and the public to "scrutinise and ask questions about the expenditure", said Mr Chamberlain.

The Good Law Project took legal action against Mr Hancock and the health department for what it said was its "wholesale failure" to disclose this information during the pandemic.

What has the government said in response?

Mr Chamberlain accepted that the Department for Health and Social Care faced an "unprecedented" situation at the start of the pandemic but the difficulties this caused was "an excuse, not a justification" for not disclosing details of the contracts.

In response to the High Court ruling, the DHSC released a statement which read: "We have been working tirelessly to deliver what is needed to protect our health and social care staff throughout this pandemic, within very short timescales and against a background of unparalleled global demand.

"This has often meant having to award contracts at speed to secure the vital supplies required to protect NHS workers and the public."

A spokesperson added: "We fully recognise the importance of transparency in the award of public contracts and continue to publish information about contracts awarded as soon as possible."

Has Matt Hancock apologised?

Mr Hancock held a series of interviews with the media following the court ruling. In response to a question posed by Piers Morgan on ITV's GMB programme, Mr Hancock claimed there had not been a PPE shortage.

"If I were given my time again and given the choice between doing work that saved lives or filing paperwork on the right date, I'd have done the same," said Mr Hancock.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth urged ministers to “commit to recovering every penny piece of taxpayers’ money” from companies which provided inadequate face masks and gowns.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Ashworth said: “So everybody knows, apart from (Mr Hancock) it seems from this morning’s media, that there were PPE shortages.

“The National Audit Office reported on it, we saw nurses resorting to bin bags and curtains for makeshift PPE – hundreds of NHS staff died.

“And his response was to pay a pest control firm £59 million for 25 million masks that couldn’t be used, to pay a hedge fund based in Mauritius £252 million again for face masks that were inadequate, and to pay a jeweller in Florida £70 million for gowns that couldn’t be used.

“So will he take this opportunity to apologise, and will he commit to recovering every penny piece of taxpayers’ money from those companies who provided us with duff PPE?”

Mr Hancock replied: “Of course where a contract isn’t delivered against we do not intend to pay taxpayers’ money, but of course, also, we wanted to make sure that we got as much PPE as we could into the country.

“And whilst of course there were individual instances that we all know about and that highlight how important it was to buy PPE, there was, as the National Audit Office has confirmed, no national level shortage and that was because of the incredible work of my team and the amount of effort they put into securing the PPE and doing the right thing.”