Cabinet Office takes Covid inquiry to court
The Government is likely to lose its legal challenge against the Covid inquiry, a minister has predicted.
Science minister George Freeman insisted the looming court battle is not a “cynical waste of time”.
But Mr Freeman admitted he thought the prospect of success was unlikely.
The Cabinet Office yesterday said it was seeking a judicial review of inquiry chairwoman Baroness Hallett’s order to release the unredacted WhatsApp messages, diaries and personal notebooks of former PM Boris Johnson.
Speaking on BBC Question Time, Mr Freeman said: “In the end, this is a judicial decision. It’ll be taken by the courts.
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“I happen to think the courts will probably take the view that Baroness Hallett, who’s running the inquiry, is perfectly entitled and empowered to decide whatever she wants.
“I don’t think it is a cynical waste of time at all. The privacy point is relevant.
“I think it’ll clear up and give people confidence, even if all this achieves is to make very clear that the inquiry will treat with absolute confidentiality anything private and we can get on with it.
“I think it is really important that the rules of this are made clear and I absolutely have very little doubt that the courts will find that Baroness Hallett will decide what evidence she deems relevant, and then we’ll get on with it.
“I think personally it’s quite likely that the courts will rule that Baroness Hallett will decide what evidence, but I think it’s a point worth testing.”
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The Cabinet Office is arguing that it should not have to hand over material which is “unambiguously irrelevant”.
The step to launch legal proceedings came after days of public wrangling between ministers and the inquiry, as the Government faced a 4pm deadline on Thursday to hand over the material.
But in a letter to the inquiry, released after the deadline had passed, the Cabinet Office said it was bringing the judicial review challenge “with regret”.
That question will centre on whether Lady Hallett’s probe has the power to force ministers to release documents and messages which the Cabinet Office believes are “unambiguously irrelevant” and cover matters “unconnected to the Government’s handling of Covid”.
Mr Johnson, in his own letter to the inquiry on Thursday evening, said he was “more than happy” to hand over the requested material directly.
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