Two parliamentary committees have written to express outrage as a Pinsent Masons partner has been nominated to chair Britain’s leading equality and human rights body.
Pinsents partner David Issac (pictured), who is a diversity steering group chair at the firm, is the government’s preferred candidate for chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
However, two parliamentary committees have written to minister for women and equalities Nicky Morgan to warn that there could be a conflict of interest because Pinsents carries out ‘significant work for the government’.
Issac went before a pre-appointment committee held by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Women and Equalities Committee, where he was questioned by MPs on Pinsents’ work for the government. Chair of the committee, MP Harriet Harman noted in the past year Pinsents received 10 contracts with government, to the tune of about £5 million.
Issac responded: ‘We used to do a lot of work and I was personally very involved in it, but, as you know, the government currently do not use the private sector a great deal. The amount of work that is referred to in my CV is historic, and it has significantly diminished.’
He also added: ‘I take the point that you are making, which is that, if there is any income generated from government, you could argue that I indirectly benefit from that as an equity partner. My view is that the perception is unfair and that I will prioritise the work that I do for the commission. To the extent that there are significant areas where that perception might impact on my involvement, I would invoke the conflict procedures and recuse myself from any decision. Broadly, I do not think that indirectly sharing a small percentage should invalidate me from being independent and continuing to be considered for the role.’
The committee also noted that Issac would receive about £50,000 for his role, which he said would be dwarfed by the approximately £500,000 an equity partner receives at the firm. While the committee suggested that this would cause a financial conflict of interest Issac said perceived conflicts could be dealt with.
He told the committee: ‘I am keen to put the interests of the commission first and foremost. The other point I have not raised is that I am beginning a process of moving towards a portfolio career; I am going to reduce my commitment as a lawyer working for Pinsents, and this is a first step in that direction.’