Lords reject Irvine discrimination case

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Two lawyers who accused Lord Irvine of Lairg of sex and race discrimination when he appointed one of his oldest friends as his special adviser have been refused a hearing in the House of Lords.

Jane Coker, a white solicitor, and Martha Osamor, a black legal adviser, had argued that the Lord Chancellor had acted outside the law by not first advertising the £73,000-a-year post.

Last year they lost their claim when the Court of Appeal ruled that Lord Irvine was entitled to choose a friend, Garry Hart, a City solicitor, to help advise him on political issues.

Now three law lords, headed by the country's senior law lord, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, have refused the two women permission to take their case to a further appeal. The court gave no reasons for its ruling. The two women must now consider taking their claim to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg or the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Ms Coker, an experienced immigration lawyer, had won a ruling at Croydon employment tribunal in 1999 that Lord Irvine had indirectly discriminated against her. That ruling was later overturned by an employment appeal tribunal, which in turn was confirmed by the Court of Appeal last year.

In November the Master of the Rolls, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, sitting with Lord Justice Schiemann and Lord Justice Mummery, said such an appointment was unlikely to constitute indirect discrimination. But they added the caveat: "It does not follow that this practice is unobjectionable."