The Secretary of State for Health can claim a victory of sorts against a small contingent of junior doctors who had challenged his decision to ‘impose the contract’.
In a judgment handed down in the judicial review case it is held there was sufficient merit to bring about the judicial review contrary to the opinion of counsel for the Department of Health. What is most interesting about the judgment is the approach taken from each side which is highly adversarial and not seemingly designed to reach a mutually agreeable solution to the dispute outside of the court.
Throughout the course of the trial the Department of Health clarified the position in relation to the ‘imposition’ of the contract. The comments made by Jeremy Hunt to Parliament did not clearly present the legal position of the Department in relation to forcing junior doctors to accept a contract which they did not agree to. Strictly put, if the Department had the ability to impose a contract on junior doctors it would be acting outside of the powers that are conferred upon it by Parliament. The statement made in parliament was acknowledged by the judge to have been made in the heat of the moment and was not entirely reflective of the actual position of the Department.
Some might say that the judicial review proceedings were unnecessary as Jeremy Hunt climbed down fairly quickly from the lofty position of ‘imposing a contract’ on junior doctors. This clarifies the position legally for all junior doctors and sets in stone what was already known quite widely that there is still room for negotiation (and there always will be) so long as the terms remain unworkable for junior doctors.
A new conciliatory approach is required by all sides to end the protracted negotiations over the new junior doctors’ contract. It remains to be seen whether this judicial review challenge has helped to bring these two sides closer or further apart, unfortunately this may have had the effect of the latter and further entrenching each side of the argument. It is hoped that both sides of the junior doctors’ dispute can find areas of common ground to bring an end to uncertainty for all involved.