London, UK, September, 2016 -- Awarding global security firm G4S the contract to run a national discrimination helpline raises "serious and legitimate grounds for concern" and risks undermining the service’s credibility, the high court has been told.
A judicial review challenge supported by human rights groups and the Law Centres Network has called on the government to delay transferring operation of the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS) to G4S.
The private prison company, which earlier this year was criticised for the way it ran a youth jail in Kent following allegations of abuse by staff, is due to take over responsibility for the helpline on 1 October.
The challenge is being supported by an alliance of organisations including Liberty, Tell Mama and Inquest, and paid for through a crowdfunding campaign.
Critics of G4S have pointed to the firm’s past failings, such as the unlawful killing of Jimmy Mubenga, a 46-year-old Angolan man who died in 2010 while being removed from the UK by the company. They say the government failed to give adequate consideration to G4S’s equality and human rights record in the other public services it has delivered.
In written submissions to the hearing, Joseph Barrett, counsel for the Law Centres Network, said that "for the service to be effective, it is critical that the provider has demonstrated expertise, a track record and credibility in the fields of discrimination and human rights".
He added: "G4S’s track record raises, on any reasonable view, serious and legitimate grounds for concern; there are also specific concerns regarding potential conflicts of interest in respect of G4S … These matters raise a real risk of damaging and undermining the credibility and efficacy of the service – with consequent harm to the interests of those who rely on the service for support and assistance and impact on the work required of law centres."
Opponents of the deal also maintain that because G4S already employs more than 45,000 people in the UK, the firm faces a conflict of interest, since its own employees may need to consult the EASS.
Daniel Carey of law firm DPG, which is representing the human rights groups, said: "This case concerns the legal duty on the government to assess the equalities impact of procurement decisions. One would expect a high degree of compliance where the Government Equalities Office was the decision-maker and the service being procured was an equalities advice line."
Campaigners demand investigation into G4S discrimination helpline contract
Bella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty, said: "The EASS provides expert advice to those who face discrimination, whether refused accommodation because of their race, or sacked from their job because of their age.
"G4S has been responsible for countless human rights violations, and the mistreatment and even unlawful killing of people in their care. It’s hard to think of a company more ill-equipped to provide this vital service. Liberty joins other equality and rights organisations in demanding that this perverse decision be halted while parliament investigates."
G4S has defended the contract and its record, saying the company would bring experience gleaned from its work running the Child Maintenance Options service.
Earlier this month, Neil Malpas, the G4S managing director responsible for the EASS, said: "We were awarded the contract on the strength of our work handling other complex call centres including the Department for Work and Pensions’ Child Maintenance Options service," he said. "We have supported that helpline for separating parents over the past three years and feedback from callers and the DWP has been positive."
The case continues.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
G4S Nairobi Kenya
Published: Wednesday, October 5, 2016
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