Call for Irvine to go over jobs bias

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THE LORD Chancellor "indirectly discriminated" against a woman lawyer when he appointed a long-standing male friend as his special adviser, an employment tribunal found yesterday.

But the panel investigating "jobs for the boys" allegations against Lord Irvine of Lairg, the head of the judiciary in England and Wales, cleared him of direct discrimination against Jane Coker. It also rejected allegations of racial and sexual discrimination brought by another female lawyer, Martha Osamor.

No order was made regarding compensation.

The two lawyers who brought the action hailed the verdict as a victory and said that, having been found in breach of employment law, the Lord Chancellor should resign.

Ms Coker said: "Our case has shown that this Government's procedures for appointing special advisers discriminate unlawfully against women and black people. The Lord Chancellor has broken the law. He must resign."

Ms Osamor, 59, a legal adviser, and Ms Coker, 44, an immigration lawyer, alleged at the tribunal that they had been discriminated against when Lord Irvine appointed his long- standing friend Garry Hart to the pounds 73,000 a year post. By failing to advertise the position and making his choice from a circle of acquaintances that was overwhelmingly white and male, the women had not been given the opportunity to be considered for the job, they argued.

Lawyers for the Lord Chancellor said the appointment of special advisers was exempted from civil service regulations and he was not required to advertise the post.

A solicitor for the women, Jane Deighton, said the tribunal found in favour of Jane Coker because she would have had a prospect of being appointed to the job. Ms Osamor did not have that prospect because she had not shown a commitment to New Labour, unlike Mr Hart who joined the Labour Party one month before the last general election. Ms Osamor nevertheless said: "This is a sweet victory, a victory for all black people and those who are against institutionalised racism."

The Tory party chairman, Michael Ancram, said: "This decision seems to be embarrassing for the Lord Chancellor, who is paying the penalty for the culture of cronyism which is still alive and kicking at the heart of this Government."

The Lord Chancellor's Department said it may appeal.