Court forces Cabinet Office to hand over Johnson WhatsApp messages to Covid Inquiry

Court says Covid Inquiry should be able to "fish for documents" and return those it deems irrelevant
Boris Johnson. Photo: Lucy North/Alamy

The Cabinet Office has been ordered to hand over unredacted WhatsApp messages and other documents, including exchanges between former prime minister Boris Johnson and senior civil servants, to the Covid Inquiry. 

In a ruling made yesterday, the High Court refused the government's judicial review against the inquiry's demand for Johnson's WhatsApp messages, diaries and notebooks from his time as PM, saying the inquiry should be able to "fish for documents".

The Cabinet Office had sought to withhold  "unambiguously irrelevant" documents but the court said Covid Inquiry chair Heather Hallett should instead receive all the WhatsApps requested and return those she deemed irrelevant.

Baroness Hallett has given the Cabinet Office a deadline of 4pm on Monday to hand over the unredacted documents, which were initially requested on 28 April. The documents requested include WhatsApp messages between senior ministers, senior civil servants and special advisers that are on Johnson's mobile phones, as well as the former PM's diaries and notebooks. 

The government said it "supports the important and necessary work of the inquiry" into the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, and will "comply" with the ruling.

But it said it accepted the High Court's decision with "regret" after questioning whether the inquiry had the power to "compel" government to hand over "unambiguously irrelevant" documents.

"The request for unambiguously irrelevant material goes beyond the powers of the inquiry. Individuals, junior officials, current and former ministers and departments should not be required to provide material that is irrelevant to the inquiry’s work. It represents an unwarranted intrusion into other aspects of the work of government. It also represents an intrusion into their legitimate expectations of privacy and protection of their personal information," the government said in a statement. 

Ahead of the Covid-19 inquiry, Johnson handed over his WhatsApps and notebooks from his time in Downing Street during the pandemic to the inquiry panel after the panel requested them. Hallett ordered the Cabinet Office to do the same but it appealed the decision to the High Court, arguing that individuals' private material should not be subject to "unwarranted intrusion". 

A version of this story first appeared on Politics Home


Coronavirus Legal
Share this page