The UK government declared its intention on Thursday (01) to launch a legal challenge concerning the disclosure of documents to a public inquiry investigating its management of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Cabinet Office revealed that it would pursue a judicial review of the directive issued by inquiry chair Judge Heather Hallett, which mandates the submission of all correspondence.
The government specifically opposes the release of unredacted WhatsApp messages, diaries, and personal notebooks belonging to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who held the position during the relevant period.
Johnson faced criticism in the early stages of the health emergency for not adequately recognising the severity of the threat. However, as the death toll escalated and new variants emerged, the scrutiny intensified.
Additionally, government ministers have faced backlash for allegedly granting contracts for protective equipment to acquaintances and allies, bypassing official government tendering procedures.
The Cabinet Office, responsible for coordinating government activities, was given a deadline of 4:00 pm (1500 GMT) to submit the requested materials or face potential legal consequences.
But it said in a letter to Hallett: “The Cabinet Office has today sought leave to bring a judicial review.
“We do so with regret and with an assurance that we will continue to cooperate fully with the inquiry before, during and after the jurisdictional issue in question is determined by the courts.”
The letter stated that if a review is granted, it would look at whether the inquiry “has the power to compel production of documents and messages which are unambiguously irrelevant to the inquiry’s work, including personal communications and matters unconnected to the government’s handling of Covid”.
“The request for unambiguously irrelevant material goes beyond the powers of the inquiry,” it asserted, adding that to do so would be an “unwarranted intrusion into other aspects of the work of government” as well as serving and former ministers, and government employees.
However, Judge Heather Hallett maintains her responsibility to determine the relevance of information for the inquiry.
Meanwhile, the main opposition Labour party has accused the government of attempting to conceal evidence, suggesting a potential cover-up.
Johnson, who initiated the probe, scheduled to have its inaugural comprehensive hearing later this month, stated on Thursday his readiness to directly provide the requested material.
“I see no reason why the inquiry should not be able to satisfy itself about the contents of my own Whatsapps and notebooks,” Johnson said in a separate letter to Hallett.
“If you wish to have this material forthwith, please let me know where and how you wish me to send it to you,” he added.
Last week, Johnson was outraged upon learning that the Cabinet Office had supplied material to two police forces regarding potential violations of pandemic regulations.
He, along with numerous aides and the current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, had previously been fined for attending alcohol-fuelled gatherings at Downing Street, thereby breaking the very laws they had implemented for the country.