Good Law Project has today warned the Government that hiring ex-Daily Mail boss Paul Dacre as the next Chair of Ofcom could be unlawful.
Despite an interview panel deeming him “not appointable” in May this year, ministers are pushing to appoint Mr Dacre, Boris Johnson’s preferred candidate, to the senior role at the UK’s media regulator.
The Government decided to rerun the recruitment process with a different interview panel. Dacre is being allowed to re-apply, despite calls for him to be banned from doing so by a number of Conservative MPs.
And it appears that the requirements of the role have been adjusted so that Mr Dacre is better positioned to be judged appointable in the second competition. For example, the advertisement for the role now includes an amended person specification, from which the requirement for the Chair to work “collegiately” has been removed.
“Very serious concerns”
Paul Dacre departed his role as chair and editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail’s parent company Associated Newspaper, at the start of November, according to the Guardian. Before this, he was the editor of the Daily Mail from 1992 to 2018.
Lawyers acting for Good Law Project have written to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, stating: “This second competition raises very serious concerns, in particular as to whether it has been held, and designed, in order to favour Mr Dacre’s candidacy.”
Although the Secretary of State is responsible for the appointment of Ofcom’s Chair, Ofcom should be independent of both the Government and the services it regulates.
The appointment process must follow the rules of the Governance Code for Public Appointments: whoever is hired should be selected on merit, openness and fairness.
The governance code does allow for Ministers to appoint someone who is not deemed “appointable” by the assessment panel.
However, there are safeguards built in: they must first consult the Commissioner for Public Appointments, and they are required to explain their reasons, and justify their decision publicly.
The letter to the Secretary of State asks the Government to explain why the competition for Chair is being rerun and why Mr Dacre is being allowed to reapply. If their explanation is unsatisfactory, Good Law Project will issue legal proceedings.
Jo Maugham, Director of Good Law Project, said: “From ignoring the first interview panel, to re-writing the job description, to reportedly giving Dacre tips on how to pass the interview, this Government seems determined to re-run the appointment process until they get what they want: Paul Dacre installed in the top job at Ofcom.
“There’s a wider pattern here. When Boris Johnson doesn’t like the outcome of an official process, he tries to rip up the rules and start again. We saw it with the Owen Paterson scandal and we’re seeing it again now with this rigged appointment process.
“We want proper answers from the Government. If we don’t get them, we expect to take legal action.”