By Ben Kerrigan-
The UK’s Covid-19 inquiry, the chair, Heather Hallet, has ruled in favor of releasing certain WhatsApp messages and diary entries, marking them as “relevant” to the proceedings.
Hallet said some of the WhatsApps and diaries that the Cabinet Office went to court to avoid revealing to the Covid inquiry were in fact “relevant” to proceedings and can be made public, the chair has ruled, after examining them for herself.
However, she said she will vary the s.21 notice to exclude from its scope documents concluded to be irrelevant in their entirety.
The decision follows the Cabinet Office’s application under section 21(4)(b) of the Inquiries Act 2005, dated July 10, 2023, which sought to withhold these documents from public scrutiny.
The application pertains to a notice issued on April 28, 2023, under section 21(2)(b) of the 2005 Act, directed at the Cabinet Office.
The notice required the production of various documents, including WhatsApp communications involving former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his adviser Henry Cook, diaries, and notebooks.
Importantly, the notice demanded the provision of these materials in an unredacted form, except for specific redactions based on national security concerns.
The Cabinet Office had initially contested the requirement for unredacted documents, arguing that certain portions were “unambiguously irrelevant” to the inquiry’s scope, rendering the notice unlawful.
However, Hallet’s ruling published today contradicts this claim, affirming that select passages from Johnson’s diaries, notebooks, WhatsApp messages, and those of his aide, were indeed pertinent to the inquiry, contrary to the Cabinet Office’s stance.
However, Hallet said in a legal decision published today, that She insisted that certain passages from Johnson’s diaries, notebooks and WhatsApp messages, and others from his aide’s WhatsApp messages, were useful to the inquiry despite claims that they were not within the scope of its investigations.
This decision followed a meticulous review of the documents by Hallet and her inquiry legal team, who assessed their relevance to the inquiry’s objectives.
While some documents and passages were deemed relevant and justified the production order, others were found to be irrelevant, raising questions about the overall reasonableness of the notice.
The Cabinet Office’s recent application represents a shift from its earlier, more generalized challenge to the legality of the notice. This time, the Cabinet Office provided all the documents covered by the notice, highlighting passages it considered “unambiguously irrelevant.”
Hallet’s ruling aligns with the approach endorsed by the Divisional Court in previous judicial review proceedings, wherein the court supported the review of documents’ relevance by the chair.
The Covid-19 inquiry’s importance cannot be overstated, and the release of these documents will likely shed further light on the government’s actions and decisions during the pandemic.
This decision marks another step forward in the pursuit of truth and accountability within the Covid-19 inquiry, emphasizing the vital role played by independent inquiries and their chairs in scrutinizing government actions and decisions.
Heather Hallet’s judgement, which, comes after the government released all of the unredacted notebooks and WhatsApps to her confidentially so that she could make a decision on their contents.
The Cabinet Office had claimed some passages were “unambiguously irrelevant” and should be exempt from the order to hand over evidence.