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COVID inquiry chair insists it is for her to decide what material is ‘relevant’ amid row over Johnson WhatsApps | Politics News

Baroness Hallett stated she couldn’t present “further comment” as she laid out her row with the federal government over what paperwork must be handed to her investigation.

By Alexandra Rogers, Political reporter @Journoamrogers

The chair of the COVID inquiry says it is up to her to decide what proof is “relevant or potentially relevant” amid a authorized row with the federal government over Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages.

Baroness Hallett stated she refused to withdraw her order for the federal government to hand over unredacted material for her investigation as she formally opened the COVID inquiry on Tuesday.

It comes simply days after the authorities launched a judicial overview over her order to the Cabinet Office that it hand over Mr Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp messages, diary entries and different paperwork.

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The former prime minister has already despatched “all unredacted WhatsApps” instantly to the inquiry.

Acknowledging the authorized battle, Baroness Hallett stated: “As has been broadly reported within the media, a problem has arisen between the inquiry and the Cabinet Office as to who decides what is related or probably related.

“I issued a discover underneath Section 21 of the Inquiries Act 2005 making it clear that, for my part, it is for the inquiry chair to decide what is related or probably related.”

She continued: “The Cabinet Office disagrees, claiming they aren’t obliged to disclose what they contemplate to be unambiguously irrelevant material. They invited me to withdraw the Section 21 discover. I declined.

“They at the moment are difficult my choice to decline to withdraw the discover within the High Court by the use of judicial overview.

“With litigation pending and as the decision-maker, I can make no further comment.”

In its reasoning for launching the judicial overview, the federal government stated it had carried out so with “regret” however that “important issues of principle” had been at stake round privateness.

It additionally questioned whether or not Baroness Hallett had “the power to compel production of documents and messages which are unambiguously irrelevant to the inquiry’s work”, and argued that requesting such material “represents an unwarranted intrusion into other aspects of the work of government”.

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Ministers have confirmed that they count on an expedited High Court listening to to happen on or shortly after 30 June.

But Mr Johnson determined to bypass the Cabinet Office final week by sending “all unredacted WhatsApps” instantly to the COVID inquiry, saying he was “perfectly content” for the material to be inspected.

The former prime minister stated he would “like to do the same” with texts which can be on an outdated cell phone he stopped utilizing due to safety issues in May 2021 – greater than a 12 months after the pandemic started.

He stated he had requested the federal government for its assist to activate the machine securely to hand over the material.

Hugo Keith KC, a counsel for the inquiry, advised Baroness Hallett that Mr Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp messages and notebooks had been going to be in contrast with redacted copies offered by the Cabinet Office and that the inspection would start this week.

He stated the inspection “will allow your team to make its own assessment as to the redactions applied by the Cabinet Office and to satisfy ourselves and ultimately you of their appropriateness or otherwise”.

Mr Johnson’s locked former cellphone has additionally been handed to the federal government with the hope of acquiring his messages earlier than May 2021, Mr Keith stated.

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“Neither Mr Johnson nor the inquiry has the technical experience to make sure the contents of the cellphone may be downloaded safely and correctly, significantly taking into consideration the overarching want to guarantee no harm is carried out to nationwide safety.

“We have subsequently agreed that this cellphone must be offered to the suitable personnel in authorities for its contents to be downloaded.

“We have requested the Cabinet Office, in liaison with Mr Johnson and people authorities personnel, to acquire the cellphone immediately, to affirm in writing the method by which it shall be examined and to give affirmation that it, just like the diaries and the notebooks and the WhatsApps, shall be accessed absolutely.

“That is to say, there shall be no redactions made to the contents, apart from in relation to nationwide safety, earlier than we might view it.”

As properly as receiving material from Mr Johnson, the inquiry has additionally acquired paperwork with redactions from two different people.

It stated the Foreign Office had additionally provided the inquiry with probably related WhatsApps from two particular advisers, with in depth redactions utilized to components that it deemed to be irrelevant.

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By distinction, Mr Keith stated the Department of Health and Social Care had offered a “a lot fuller disclosure”, together with messages from Matt Hancock, who was well being secretary in the course of the pandemic.

“We would in fact invite the Foreign Office the Cabinet Office to pay shut regard to the place adopted by the DHSC,” he stated.

So far the inquiry has issued 38 requests to authorities departments and different our bodies, 11 to regional mayors and 12 to ministers together with former prime minister Liz Truss, former deputy prime minister Dominic Raab, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch and Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove.

Following this morning’s preliminary listening to, Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman stated the federal government was “prepared to agree one other manner ahead” when requested whether or not it wished to proceed with authorized motion.

“Obviously we now have explored different prospects for decision beforehand. So clearly we proceed to converse to the inquiry. And as I say, we’re prepared to agree one other manner ahead.”

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