The UK government has suffered a major blow in its attempt to block the release of Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages and diaries related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The court order is being considered as a humiliating defeat to the current Prime Minister of UK who intended to hide the public interest information.
The UK government has lost a legal challenge to keep former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages and diaries from being disclosed to the official Covid inquiry. The High Court ruled on Thursday that the government must comply with the inquiry chair’s demand to hand over all of Johnson’s unredacted documents relating to the pandemic.
The Cabinet Office had argued that the inquiry did not have the legal authority to request such a broad range of documents, some of which might be irrelevant or contain private information. However, the inquiry’s lawyers said that the government could not decide what was relevant and that withholding documents would undermine public confidence in the investigation.
Johnson, who was prime minister during the Covid crisis, had supported the inquiry’s case and said that his actions and decisions should be scrutinized. The High Court judges agreed and said that Johnson’s diaries and notebooks were “very likely to contain information about decision-making” during the pandemic.
The inquiry, led by retired judge Heather Hallett, has the power to summon witnesses, including senior politicians, to testify under oath at public hearings. It was set up in late 2021 after pressure from bereaved families and opposition parties who criticized the government’s handling of the virus outbreak.
The government said it would “fully comply” with the ruling but defended its decision to launch a judicial review to clarify the inquiry chair’s powers under the 2005 Inquiries Act. It also said it would work with the inquiry to ensure the privacy of individuals and that irrelevant information would be returned and not retained.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group welcomed the ruling and said it was a “disgrace” that the Cabinet Office tried to obstruct the work of the inquiry. “This judicial review was a desperate waste of time and money. The inquiry needs to get to the facts if the country is to learn lessons that will save lives in the future,” the group’s spokesperson, Deborah Doyle, said.
Covid-19 was recorded as a cause of death for almost 227,000 people in the UK, one of the highest pandemic death tolls in Europe