High Court to rule on legal clash between Government and Covid inquiry chair

Inquiry chair Baroness Heather Hallett (James Manning/PA)
Inquiry chair Baroness Heather Hallett (James Manning/PA)

The Cabinet Office is to learn whether it has won its legal challenge to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry chairwoman’s request for Boris Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp messages, notebooks and diaries.

High Court judges are expected to hand down their decision over the Government’s judicial review of Baroness Heather Hallett’s order at 2.30pm on Thursday.

The Cabinet Office has refused to provide the documents, arguing the request is “so broad” that it is “bound to catch” a large amount of irrelevant material.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson
Mr Johnson himself is backing Baroness Hallett (Andrew Boyers/PA)

Lawyers for the department say the inquiry does not have the legal power to force ministers to release messages and records it claims cover matters “unconnected to the Government’s handling of Covid”.

However, Hugo Keith KC, for the inquiry chairwoman, has said the idea that the Cabinet Office could decide which aspects were relevant “would emasculate this and future inquiries”.

And Lord David Pannick KC, on behalf of the former prime minister, argued there is a “real danger” of undermining public confidence in the process if the department wins its bid.

The Government took the highly unusual step of launching the challenge in June, in a move which attracted criticism after days of public wrangling between the Cabinet Office and Lady Hallett’s probe.

The former prime minister handed over his unredacted WhatsApp messages, diaries and 24 notebooks to the Cabinet Office in late May.

Mr Johnson himself is backing Lady Hallett, who rejected the argument that the material was irrelevant in a May ruling, in opposing the legal challenge over the request.

Lord Justice Dingemans and Mr Justice Garnham are expected to hand down their decision on Thursday.