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Latest 01 March 2023

Hancock WhatsApps expose threadbare FOIA regime

PjrNews / Alamy Stock Photo

Lawyers acting for Good Law Project have today written to the Information Commissioner’s Office asking it to refer the Department of Health and Social Care to the High Court for potential contempt of court proceedings after the DHSC, once again, failed to release Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages.

On 20 January 2023, following repeated failures by DHSC to comply with its legal obligations under the Freedom of Information Act, it was given formal notice by the ICO that it had 35 days to comply with its obligations . However, once again, DHSC failed to comply, notifying Good Law Project that DHSC is “still reviewing your complaint though we intend to respond as soon as possible.” The original FOIA request, for “WhatsApp messages between former minister Matt Hancock and Alex Bourne” (Mr Hancock’s publican friend) was made almost a year ago, on 11 March 2022. 

In the meantime, a selection of Mr Hancock’s other WhatsApp messages have been released to the Telegraph by the journalist Isabel Oakeshott. The length of the DHSC’s delays – and the brazen nature of its failures to comply with its legal obligations – bring the Freedom of Information Act regime, and the important public interest in transparency of Government business, into disrepair or disrepute. 

You can read a copy of the letter sent by lawyers for Good Law Project to the Information Commissioner’s Office here.

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