Monday, February 22, 1999 Published at 19:01 GMT
Blair escapes tribunal appearance
Lord Irvine's appointment of an old friend sparked the tribunal
Prime Minister Tony Blair has escaped being drawn into a potentially embarrassing tribunal case involving "jobs-for-the-boys" allegations against his close advisor and former employer the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine.
An industrial tribunal rejected on Monday an attempt to make Mr Blair the first UK prime minister to have to answer allegations of sex and race discrimination.
Lawyers acting for two women who have brought the case applied to have Mr Blair's name added to Lord Irvine and his department as respondents in the case.
The full hearing is now scheduled to begin on 22 March.
The case has been brought by lawyers Jane Coker and Martha Osamore, and concerns the appointment by Lord Irvine of Garry Hart as his special adviser.
One of the Islington set
Mr Hart, who was appointed to the £73,000-a-year post at the end of 1997, is a wealthy City lawyer and member of the "Islington set" - the high-powered circle of politicians, lawyers and business figures in which Mr Blair moved from long before he became Labour leader.
In applying for Mr Blair to be included in the list of respondents Ms Coker and Ms Osamore, argued he took an active role in Mr Hart's appointment.
Karon Monaghan, council for Ms Osamore, told the tribunal that correspondence between Lord Irvine and Mr Blair showed the two men had discussed the appointment during a chat in the garden of No 10 Downing Street.
She also said the letters showed Mr Blair had suggested Mr Hart, because of his background, be taken on as a legal expert rather than a political adviser.
Jane Deighton, solicitor for both women, said: "In a normal employment case that is a manager changing a job specification to suit a specific person.
"They appointed Mr Hart, who is a white man, and his friend and the Lord Chancellor's friend, ahead of these two women, one of whom is black."
The applicants also sought an order from the tribunal for the Lord Chancellor to answer a series of written questions submitted by them, including details of the race and sex of members of his professional and social circle dating back to his university days.
Application 'out of time'
Appearing for the Lord Chancellor and his department, David Pannick QC said Lord Irvine had already answered the applicants' written questions as fully as he was able.
He said it was unreasonable to expect him to give details of his professional and social circles dating back over many years.
Rejecting the attempt to bring Mr Blair into the case, tribunal chairman Ian Lamb said the application was "out of time". If the applicants had wanted to include Mr Blair they should have done so at an earlier stage.
He said he would rule on the call for more detailed answers from Lord Irvine to some of the applicants' questions in writing later this week.
They also claim Lord Irvine's insistence on appointing someone he knew and trusted was discriminatory, because his social and professional circle was made up overwhelmingly of white men.
Ms Coker, 44, a solicitor and Ms Osamore, a legal adviser, began proceedings in January 1998 after reading of Mr Hart's appointment. The two women, both of whom have been politically active on the left for a number of years, say they would have liked to have applied for the job.
They are seeking compensation, a declaration that Lord Irvine's behaviour was unlawful and recommendations from the tribunal geared towards reforming the system of appointing special advisers.
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