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Friday, February 6, 1998 Published at 21:01 GMT


Lord Chancellor's office faces sex bias case
image: [ The Lord Chancellor: allegations of sex bias over advisor's job ]
The Lord Chancellor: allegations of sex bias over advisor's job

The department headed by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, is facing an accusation of sex discrimination from a woman solicitor.

Jane Coker, a legal aid lawyer from north London, is taking the department to an industrial tribunal over the appointment of Gary Hart, a 57-year-old solicitor from a top City of London firm, as Lord Irvine's special adviser.

Ms Coker says that when it was announced that Mr Hart had been appointed, it was the first she knew about the job.

[ image: Jane Coker: says she was excluded from applying]
Jane Coker: says she was excluded from applying
"When it was announced to the press that he was appointed, there was an element of surprise and irritation that yet again another man had been appointed, " she said.

"They are just doing what every other government has ever done - just appoint a man who is your mate."

She said she was excluded from consideration because the job was not properly advertised. She added that selecting staff from a circle of people already known to the government is a breach of the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Treatment Directive.

Ms Coker's solicitor, Jane Deighton, said the Lord Chancellor had broken the law.

Ms Deighton says: "The outcome of the case is likely to be the reorganisation of employment procedures within the Lord Chancellor's department so that jobs are open to women and black people as well as to white men."

However, the Lord Chancellor's Department has said that government lawyers would not be responding to Jane Coker's initial moves because it was not thought she had a legal case against him.

Earlier this week, the Lord Chancellor was at the centre of controversy over proposed new powers to prevent papers probing politicians' private lives.

The suggestion that the Press Complaints Commission be allowed to block newspapers going ahead with an expose did not prove popular with newspaper proprietors, editors or journalists.

They saw the move as a threat to freedom of expression.


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