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High Court challenge over junior doctors' contract begins

Published 19/09/2016

Doctors are taking the dispute to court
Doctors are taking the dispute to court

A medics' campaign group has begun a High Court challenge against Government plans to impose a new contract on junior doctors in England.

Justice for Health, a group founded by five junior doctors, says the contract put forward by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is "unsafe and unsustainable".

A judge is analysing evidence at a High Court hearing in London which is expected to end on Tuesday.

The litigation marks the latest stage of opposition to Mr Hunt's plans for seven-day NHS services in England.

Junior doctors began strikes - the longest of which has lasted two days - in January.

Next month, when the contract is due to be introduced, thousands are planning the first five-day walkout.

Justice for Health - founded by Dr Nadia Masood, Dr Ben White, Dr Fran Silman, Dr Amar Mashru and Dr Marie-Estella McVeigh - says Mr Hunt's decision to impose the contract lacks a sound or rational foundation.

Mr Hunt, who was not at the hearing, says Justice for Health's complaint is "without substance" and should be dismissed.

Lawyers say they do not expect the judge, Mr Justice Green, to deliver a ruling until later in the month.

Barrister Jenni Richards QC, who led Justice for Health's legal team, told Mr Justice Green, in a written statement, that Mr Hunt's contract decision should be quashed.

She argued that Mr Hunt could recommend a new contract but had "no power" to impose a new contract.

She said he had "acted in breach" of the "requirements of transparency, certainty and clarity" and acted "irrationally".

Ms Richards said Mr Hunt had attacked Justice for Health for "having the temerity" to attack his decision.

Barrister Clive Sheldon QC, who led Mr Hunt's legal team, told Mr Justice Green in a written statement: "The claim is wholly without substance."

He said Mr Hunt had felt that a new contract should be introduced by the NHS.

He argued that Mr Hunt had not decided to "compel" NHS employers to use the new contract, but had decided to "approve" the new contract.

Lawyers said Mr Justice Green had been given detail of breakdowns in negotiations.

Before the hearing, junior doctors had staged a protest against the new contract outside the Royal Courts of Justice complex, and a spokeswoman for Justice for Health said passers-by had been supportive.

Dr Silman, who is based in London, said she was hopeful of success.

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