Members of the cabinet aren’t stupid. They can’t be. They all, to a person, went to top universities, many succeeded in the private sector, all are millionaires in property terms at the very least. Yet on occasions, such as when Liz Truss makes a speech, it is hard to be totally convinced by their intellectual rigour. Another such moment is when Jeremy Hunt does something, like sending an entirely inappropriate tweet during an ongoing trial.
For today, it can finally be reported that Judge Mr Justice Coulson, sitting in the manslaughter case following the death, following an emergency caesarean, of Frances Cappuccini, ordered Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to remove the offending tweet which said it was a ‘tragic case from which huge lessons must be learned’. He posted it on the second day of the manslaughter trial of an NHS trust and locum consultant anaesthetist Errol Cornish. Her death was indeed a tragic case but the trial collapsed today (28/01/2016) after the judge found they had no case to answer. Judge Coulson said that Dr Cornish's actions were 'as far removed from a case of gross negligence manslaughter as it's possible to be'. In reference to Mr Hunt's tweet, Judge Coulson said:
'It is highly inappropriate for anybody to pass comment which might be said to know the result of a trial before that result is known. I suppose, potentially, in a very serious case, it could be regarded as a contempt of court. I would hope that everybody would know that.'
And he blamed this inexplicable lapse on there being ‘no lawyers left in the House of Commons’ (there have been pieces on this such as here). It would seem that it is Jeremy Hunt himself who has huge lessons to learn.
But, one does not need to be a lawyer to know that commenting on an active case is completely unacceptable. It's really very basic legal knowledge; it is impossible to think Jeremy Hunt could not have known it is not something that is done, though it is worth pointing out that he is far from the only senior politician to have made such a rudimentary error.
Jeremy Hunt has been a lucky politician. Most would have been brought down by the inappropriate closeness between himself and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation when he was Culture Secretary when he was supposed to be making the quasi-judicial decision on whether to allow the firm’s takeover of BskyB. He survived by the skin of his teeth and was moved to his current post of Health Secretary, succeeding the hugely unpopular Andrew Lansley, who was left bloodied by his wasteful and reckless top/down reform the NHS, the one the Conservatives had promised not to undertake. Rather than playing the role of a pacifier, Hunt has himself become extremely unpopular with the medical profession, especially in relation to the contract he has been trying to force on junior doctors.
While posting this tweet was a simple moment of stupidity by the Health Secretary, it does suggest he had other issues on his mind when he published the tweet. We have already seen his frankly dodgy use of statistics when it comes to weekend deaths in hospitals - by the editor of the British Medical Journal here and excellently covered by Buzzfeed here. One is inevitably left wondering whether Hunt was preparing to politicise the desperately sad case of Frances Cappuccini and use it as another stick with which to beat the NHS and push through further reforms.