High Court dismisses challenge to new junior doctors’ contract


R (Justice for Health Ltd) v Secretary of State for Health [2016] EWHC 2338 (Admin)

The High Court has today handed down judgment in the claim brought by ‘Justice for Health’ against the Secretary of State’s (‘SoS’) decision to approve the terms of a new model contract for junior doctors.

The new contract had been agreed by the bodies representing junior doctors and NHS employers in negotiations (the BMA and NHS Employers (‘NHSE’) respectively), but later rejected by the BMA’s members in a referendum. Shortly after the referendum result, on 6 July 2016, the SoS announced that he would proceed with the introduction of the contract that had been agreed by the BMA and NHSE. 5 junior doctors then sought to challenge that decision in the High Court, in proceedings brought by their company, Justice for Health.

Today Mr Justice Green has comprehensively dismissed the claim on all 3 grounds. In a lengthy judgment running to over 80 pages, the Judge concluded that:

  1. The SoS had acted within the scope of his statutory powers by approving the new contract for junior doctors. He had not taken any decision to impose the contract on NHS employers;
  2. The SoS had complied with his duties of transparency and good administration; and
  3. The SoS had not acted irrationally. The new contract was intended to serve a ‘multiplicity of purposes’, not limited to reducing the problem of increased mortality rates at weekends. In any event, the SoS had been entitled to conclude that the new contract would contribute towards reducing that problem, by increasing the availability of junior doctors at weekends. The evidential basis on which he relied in coming to this conclusion was both ‘cogent and significant’.

Clive Sheldon QC, Joseph Barrett and Ronnie Dennis acted for the SoS, instructed by the Government Legal Department. Jason Coppel QC and Christopher Knight acted for NHSE, instructed by Capsticks Solicitors LLP.

Click here to read the judgment.