David Isaac

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Person.png David Isaac Companies HouseRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
David Isaac.jpg
BornMarch 1958
Alma materTrinity Hall Cambridge, Wolfson College Oxford

David Isaac CBE is a prominent technology lawyer, former Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Chair of Governors at University of the Arts London and an advocate for education, the arts and diversity.[1] He is a supporter of Conservative Party think-tank and pressure group Bright Blue.[2]


As a partner at Pinsent Masons,[3] David Isaac is the global sector head for Advanced Manufacturing and Technology and advises clients, including higher education institutions, on complex transformation projects and disputes.[4]

Other appointments

Alongside his work at the EHRC, David Isaac is a Director of 14-18 NOW, the UK’s cultural programme to mark the centenary of the First World War. He chaired Modern Art Oxford from 2011 to 2018, championing the importance of visual arts galleries outside London. He was a trustee of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, a founder trustee of British Future and a Director of the Big Lottery. He was the Chair of Stonewall from 2003 to 2012 and led the organisation to deliver major legislative and social change in the UK. He was ranked 27th in the OUTstanding Top 100 LGBT executives published by the FT in October 2017 and was appointed CBE in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to equality and diversity.[5]

Strong Jewish presence

On 12 May 2016, the Jewish Chronicle reported:

"There is a strong Jewish presence at the top of Britain's equality watchdog. David Isaac, new chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, took up office this week, joining Rebecca Hilsenrath, who was made CEO of the body last autumn."[6]

Putting the screws on Labour

In July 2019, the Morning Star reported:

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) chairman David Isaac receives substantial sums of money from a law firm that advises the Conservative government, the Star has discovered.

Mr Isaac is paid £500 for each day he does work for the EHRC, but his main job is as an equity partner at City law firm Pinsent Masons.

The company, whose recent clients include the Ministry of Justice, published its annual results on Thursday, showing that profit per equity partner was an eye-watering £620,000.

Mr Isaac will have received a lesser amount because he has undertaken “not to advise government clients of Pinsent Masons while he holds the role of chair of EHRC, and not to receive profit as an equity partner from work conducted by that firm on behalf of the government.”

He made that solemn promise in 2016 after a grilling from none other than Labour MP Harriet Harman, who runs Parliament’s joint committee on human rights — tasked with scrutinising the appointment of EHRC chairs.

Ms Harman expressed extensive concerns about Mr Isaac’s suitability to lead the commission.

She initially said there was “obviously a conflict of interest” and commented that his salary at the law firm, which was then around half a million pounds, “dwarfed” whatever money he would receive from the EHRC.

Ms Harman noted that in 2015 his law firm had worked on “about 10 contracts with government, to the tune of about £5 million.”

She said that although that amount “might be peanuts as far as your overall firm is concerned,” Mr Isaac should not profit from government contracts held by Pinsent Masons while he chaired the EHRC.

Even after Mr Isaac offered to ring-fence government income to his firm, “such that I do not directly receive any benefit,” the committee still harboured concerns.

Fellow Labour MP Ruth Cadbury said:

“This country has become very hair shirt about conflict of interest and takes a very literal view of what is and is not a conflict of interest.
“In my mind, what you are describing about your relationship … still feels like something that will come back to hit not you or I but the EHRC.
“I want the EHRC to be as strong and as robust an organisation as it can be.
“You are proposing that you are still going to be a partner of PM (Pinsent Masons); you are still going to be part of that gang, that team, which is proposing to continue working for the government.”

No conflict?

Indeed, David Isaac’s double role as a City lawyer and human rights watchdog has posed potential conflicts of interest.

At an EHRC board meeting in January, Mr Isaac recused himself from the commission’s investigation into the BBC.

“David Isaac noted that the law firm in which he was a partner (Pinsent Masons) acted from time to time for the BBC on matters unrelated to equal pay,” the minutes said.
“Although the board was content that this did not represent a substantive conflict of interest, there was concern that there could be a perception of bias and, therefore, David Isaac agreed to recuse himself from determination in relation to this matter.”[7]


Related Documents

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:Fears over conflicts of interest at top of watchdog probing Labour anti-semitismArticle16 July 2019Phil MillerSo why would the EHRC decide to investigate Labour for anti-semitism, when the polls showed it had actually dropped, and not probe the Conservatives or UKIP, whose members displayed Islamophobia?
Document:Racist and Cruel - The Nasty World of the Equality and Human Rights CommissionArticle30 May 2016David HenckeI think the EHRC is becoming part of the new nasty Britain. It will issue fine words but do nothing practical about the plight of people because it won't have the staff to do it. It is all part of turning the country into a place where the wealthy feel comfortable and the rest have to scavenge to survive. The only added twist is that the well paid people at the top of this pyramid at the ECHR are being paid out of ordinary people's taxes.
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