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TWO solicitors who are taking the Lord Chancellor to an industrial tribunal for sex and race discrimination have hit out at his claims that their action is politically motivated.
Jane Coker and Martha Osamor are bringing the case over the appointment of Garry Hart as Lord Irvine's special adviser.
Coker of north London law firm Jane Coker & Partners says: "It is scandalous to call it politically motivated. That is just not the case.
"Irvine appointed his friend. There was no advertising so far as I know."
Coker points out: "Martha and I are Labour voters. Over the years, I have prepared documents for the party. I have briefed Labour MPs."
She was bitterly disappointed not to have been given the chance to apply for the position of special adviser.
Coker is accusing the Lord Chancellor of sex discrimination, while Nigerian-born Osamor, a solicitor at the Tottenham Law Centre, is bringing a case on the grounds of race.
The hearing has been set for five days, from 22 March, at the South London industrial tribunal in Croydon.
At a preliminary hearing on 22 February, the women made an application for Tony Blair to be made a respondent alongside the Lord Chancellor.
According to Coker, Blair had the final say on the appointment of Hart, who happens to be the godfather of one of the Prime Minister's children. The application was turned down.
Irvine's criticisms of the women's case are laid out in a letter to the women's lawyers. The Lawyer has obtained a copy. A Lord Chancellor's Department spokesman says: "The department is satisfied all the correct procedures in the appointment of Hart [were followed],and we will continue to fight the claim."
A letter from assistant treasury solicitor, Lindsey Nicoll, to Coker and Osamor's solicitor says: "The Lord Chancellor is not prepared to attend as a witness to enable your clients to debate political issues."
It says the cases are "without foundation, and have been brought in order to ventilate a complaint of a political nature."