COVID inquiry chair may resign if WhatsApp battle lost to government

The chair of the COVID inquiry, Baroness Hallett, has been cautioned that resigning may be the “only logical response” if she loses the battle with the government over access to unredacted WhatsApp messages. Solicitor Elkan Abrahamson, representing the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group, expressed his concerns after the government decided to launch a judicial review into Baroness Hallett’s request for unredacted material.

Abrahamson emphasized that he was not urging her to resign, but if the courts supported the government’s position on the documents, she would have little choice. He expressed his hope that the inquiry would prevail in the legal battle.

The government has explained its reasons for seeking the judicial review in parliament. Baroness Hallett, appointed chair in December 2021, has requested the government to hand over documents, including messages sent by former prime minister Boris Johnson and his ministers and advisers, as well as contemporary diary entries. The Cabinet Office has denied the request and sought a judicial review, arguing that there are “important issues of principle at stake” regarding privacy.

Paymaster General Jeremy Quin told MPs that the challenge was a “matter of legal principle that will have an impact on this and all future governments” and was not related to “one individual’s personal information.” He assured that all internal discussions on COVID requested by the inquiry would be transparently available. However, he noted that the redacted material was considered “clearly and unambiguously irrelevant” to the inquiry’s work.

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Several MPs, including some from the Conservative party, criticized Quin’s position. William Wragg, the Tory chair of the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, argued that the chair should determine what is relevant. Former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland also suggested that courts would be hesitant to second-guess Baroness Hallett’s decision-making. Furthermore, Conservative former minister Sir Edward Leigh urged the government to cooperate fully with the inquiry and let them access the requested information to uncover the truth.

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Jamie Cartwright

Jamie is a keen traveler, writer, and (English) teacher. A few years after finishing school in the East Mids, UK, he went traveling around South America and Asia. Several teaching and writing jobs, he found himself at The Thaiger where he mostly covers international news and events.

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