Boris Johnson urged the High Court to throw out the government’s legal challenge The question of covid On the unchanged messages.
The former prime minister said he had “no objection”. Question Examining his notebooks, diaries and WhatsApp messages, the Cabinet Office refused to hand them over in full.
The government is seeking a judicial review of the inquiry after the inquiry’s chair, Baroness Heather Hallett, ordered ministers to release the documents.
Cabinet Office lawyers argue that the request does not have the legal power to compel ministers to release documents and messages and “covers matters unrelated to the government’s handling of Covid”.
At a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice today, Sir James Eddy Casey, representing the department, said the challenge had come “with great reluctance”.
He says that Lady Hallet’s interest is “very wide” and “inevitably” covers many irrelevant things – and a third of this is irrelevant.
Lady Hallett said the Cabinet Office’s position would “undermine its ability to carry out the inquiry properly” and would have “serious implications” for all public inquiries.
In written submissions to the court on Mr Johnson’s behalf, the lawyers said they had “no objection” to the request as the unredacted text had “appropriate security and confidentiality arrangements” – which was in question.
Mr. Johnson, an interested party in the case, along with his former counsel, Henry Cook, are asking the court to dismiss the government’s objection.
Lord David Panick KC, representing the former prime minister, said: “Mr Johnson considers it appropriate for the chair to have any documents it thinks may be relevant to its further investigation, and that is consistent with the purpose of the inquiry.” Mr Johnson announced in May 2021.
Mr Johnson “accepts” part of Lady Hallett’s legal submissions to the High Court, adding that “in the first instance, the defendant’s interpretation not only promotes the purpose of the Act and the reference to public inquiries, but is consistent with the purposes of this inquiry.
In setting up the inquiry, Mr Johnson said he wanted the state’s action to be ‘under a microscope’ and that the inquiry should be ‘free to examine every document’.
“This is what the people expect and what should be done.”
Lord Panick, who represented Mr Johnson at Partygate, said the inquiry should not be barred from technical arguments about ‘appropriateness’ in the process.
He added, “The question should be for the chairman, not the cabinet office, so that he can carry out his purpose and the people can trust that he is doing it.” It should decide which content is likely to be useful.
The Government, which launched the trial in early May, took the unusual step, following days of public wrangling between the Cabinet Office and Lady Hallett’s inquiry after she rejected her argument that the case was irrelevant in May’s ruling.
In his written arguments, Sir James said the powers granted in 2005 on inquiries did not extend to compel matters unrelated to the work of the inquiry and that notices of evidence “must be limited in terms of necessity”.
The inquiry centered around Mr Johnson’s WhatsApp messages, notebooks and personal diaries, which the former prime minister handed over to the Cabinet Office in an unredacted form at the end of May.
Court documents filed in June revealed that the WhatsApp messages released to authorities were only from May 2021, as a result of a security breach involving an old mobile phone belonging to Mr Johnson.
The former prime minister said he was “very happy” to hand over his unredacted WhatsApp messages and diaries directly to the inquiry after the Cabinet Office began its judicial review.
As the hearing began today, Sir James said the legal tender had been made “with great reluctance”.
He told the High Court: “What we are proposing to the bench is to compel disclosure of a broad section of content, and it should contain a lot of irrelevant material.”
“It was clear that it contained a lot of unnecessary material.”
He said the pandemic could “force everything” from everyone working in government around the pandemic, and that what was asked “no matter how private, no matter how private, no attention is paid to the content of the messages”.
Hugo Keith Casey, a consultant to the inquiry, said there was a “serious divide” between his arguments and those made by the Cabinet Office.
“The chair, on her part, said that (the question) is permissible from the point of view of reason, which in the opinion of the chair may be relevant, may or may not have arisen after that.” all of them.
“There is no principle underpinning the Cabinet Office’s argument.”
The hearing will conclude on Monday before Lord Justice Dingmans and Mr Justice Garnham.