Crucial government decisions on messaging services erased in ‘many cases’, High Court hears | UK News
There are “many instances” of crucial government decisions unlawfully taking down messaging services, the High Court has heard.
Campaign groups All the Citizens (ATC) and the Good Law Project (GLP) claim ministers are breaking the law by not following guidelines, deleting messages and using private accounts for government business.
The court heard that the prime minister was personally used Whatsapp Accounts as a tool for communicating “critical decisions”.
Boris Johnson also had “sensitive information” sent to his personal device via the intelligence service as of November 2020, according to court documents.
It was also said that messages later screened and released by his former chief adviser Dominic Cummings were never recorded on government systems.
Lawyers on behalf of the government argued that ministers and officials need fast communication and that this is being exacerbated by the pandemic.
A Cabinet Office policy mandating the use of automatic deletion of instant messages was heard to violate the Public Records Act 1958.
Ben Jaffey QC, representing ATC, said the public has “the right to see historically important public records” and the messages should be archived.
He added it was possible to identify “many instances” where messages about government affairs were sent and received on personal devices and not copied or transmitted to government systems for archival purposes — or copied only when it was necessary to use them for ” a specific purpose”.
Personal devices that are used “everyday”.
Testimony from Cabinet Office chief operating officer Sarah Harrison says personal devices are used “on a daily basis” by government officials.
Another testimony from Department of Health and Social Care William Vineall claimed the Prime Minister, former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and other senior officials used personal WhatsApp accounts and emails to discuss important government matters, including the response to the pandemic.
Another statement said Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi previously used WhatsApp auto-delete on his private phone for government communications.
COVID increased the need for fast communication
Government lawyers argued that the use of personal email accounts, instant messaging and personal devices was “nothing in itself new or special”.
In its separate lawsuit against Boris Johnson, the GLP is expected to dispute its use of non-state communications channels.
As part of another lawsuit over multi-million pound antibody testing contracts, the GLP had previously asked the High Court to order searches of Mr Hancock’s government email accounts used for government business – believed to include WhatsApps.
The claims are expected to be heard within three days, with a decision expected at a later date.
The hearing continues.