Campaigners took legal action against the Cabinet Office over the decision to pay more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money to market research firm Public First.
Lawyers from the Good Law Project accused the then-chief adviser to the Prime Minister, Mr Cummings of wanting work to be given to a company whose bosses were his friends.
Delivering her judgement, Justice O’Farrell said: “The fair-minded and informed observer would have appreciated that it was vital that the results and conclusions from the research were reliable and that Mr Cummings was uniquely placed, given his experience and expertise, to form a rapid view on which organisation might best be able to deliver those urgent requirements.
“However, the defendant’s failure to consider any other research agency, by reference to experience, expertise, availability or capacity, would lead a fair-minded and informed observer to conclude that there was a real possibility, or a real danger, that the decision-maker was biased.
“The claimant is entitled to a declaration that the decision of 5 June 2020 to award the contract to Public First gave rise to apparent bias and was unlawful.”
Mr Cummings and the government had denied any wrongdoing.
Lawyers representing the Cabinet Office told the judge that Mr Cummings made a recommendation, not a decision, and the Good Law Project’s claim should be dismissed.
They said that, during a national emergency, Mr Cummings “recommended a firm he knew could get the job done”.
Speaking afterwards, a Good Law Project spokeswoman said: “Michael Gove had tried to argue that only Public First could carry out the contracted work and everyone was acting under pressure.
“However, the High Court found that version of events ‘does not stand up to scrutiny’ and ‘the time constraints … did not exonerate the defendant from conducting the procurement so as to demonstrate a fair and impartial process of selection.”
“The truth, it said, is the Cabinet Office didn’t even consider whether to give the contract to anyone else.
“Emails between civil servants revealed in the course of Good Law Project’s legal action revealed both Michael Gove and No.10 wanted contracts to be awarded to Public First.”