The union representing top civil servants has lost its High Court attempt to overturn Boris Johnson’s decision not to sack Priti Patel over bullying claims.
Lord Justice Lewis, sitting with Mrs Justice Steyn, dismissed the claim by the First Division Association (FDA) that the Prime Minister was wrong to overrule his adviser on ministerial standards and back the Home Secretary.
He concluded that Mr Johnson had not misdirected himself over the provisions of the Ministerial Code when reaching his decision.
The judge said: “The question for this court is whether the Prime Minister proceeded on the basis that conduct would not fall within the description of bullying within paragraph 1.2 of the Ministerial Code if the person concerned was unaware of, or did not intend, the harm or offence caused.
“Reading the statement (made by Mr Johnson) as a whole, and in context, we do not consider that the Prime Minister misdirected himself in that way.”
In an investigation into Ms Patel’s behaviour, published in November last year, Sir Alex Allan, Mr Johnson’s then adviser on ministerial standards, found she had not always treated civil servants with “consideration and respect”.
‘Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying’
He concluded: “Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals. To that extent her behaviour has been in breach of the Ministerial Code, even if unintentionally.”
Mr Johnson, the arbiter of the Ministerial Code, said the Home Secretary was “unaware” of the impact she had and he was “reassured” that she was “sorry for inadvertently upsetting those with whom she was working”. After “weighing up all the factors”, he concluded the code had not been breached.
But, at a hearing last month, lawyers for the FDA, which represents senior public servants, argued Mr Johnson “misinterpreted” the term “bullying” in the Ministerial Code when deciding if Ms Patel’s treatment of civil servants breached its standards. They alleged he made a “misdirection of law” in reaching his decision.
Lawyers for Mr Johnson argued that the FDA’s claim was “not justiciable” and that there had been “no error of law”.
They said the Ministerial Code “does not create or impose any legal duties on ministers or the Prime Minister”, is “not required by law”, and its contents are “not regulated by law”.
The code is a “political document” and “not about protecting the rights of civil servants” who still have access “to all the employment law rights”, the Prime Minister’s lawyer argued.