Good Law Project will be in the Court of Appeal on Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th November to challenge the High Court’s decision to allow the Government’s wide-scale use of private emails and messaging apps to conduct official business.
Back in July 2021, Good Law Project launched legal action over Ministers’ reliance on private email accounts, WhatsApp and auto-delete options to conduct Government business during the pandemic – from the spread of Covid-19 in care homes to the awarding of lucrative contracts.
We believe this is in contravention of the Government’s own policies, national security guidance and its legal obligation to retain documents on official systems for future scrutiny, including for the purposes of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.
In April, the High Court found it was clear that, “some Ministers, civil servants and unpaid Government advisors have: (1) used private email accounts for communications that relate to Government business; (2) used instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp for such communications; and (3) made use of auto-delete functions.”
But Ministers – including the former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson – argued that there was no legal duty on them to avoid that use and that the Government has a wide discretion when it comes to making arrangements for preserving records. And the High Court agreed.
Good Law Project is now seeking to overturn the High Court’s judgement to force the Government to fix its policies to ensure that official business is conducted with transparency and accountability.
The appeal hearing, which will be livestreamed, comes alongside the beginning of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, which has requested transcripts of WhatsApp messages sent by Boris Johnson during the pandemic.
But the Government was forced to admit in our court proceedings in March that no phone messages sent by Boris Johnson before April 2021 are available because of a previous security breach. This is the kind of information black hole that our case seeks to prevent in the future.
Emma Dearnaley, Legal Director of Good Law Project, said, “The Government’s use of personal devices, private emails and messaging apps to conduct official business is all over the news at the moment.
“Good Law Project has been sounding the alarm ever since it emerged that Ministers were using unofficial channels to make major decisions during the pandemic. The use of non-Government communication systems means that important Government business is being conducted without proper transparency or accountability. It is also a serious threat to our national security.
“We hope that this appeal will lead to a declaration that several Ministers have been in breach of their own policies and legal duties, and also a finding that those policies do not meet legal requirements. We need the Government to put in place policies that are fit for purpose in the digital age, and then we need Ministers and officials to actually follow them.”