This morning the High Court accepted the Government’s arguments about Ministers’ use of unofficial messaging services and channels.
The increasing use by Ministers, Special Advisors, and others, of private email accounts, private and auto-deleting messaging services, and personal phones is a blight on any conception of good governance.
Vast sums of public money pass hands following deals cooked up, in whole or in part, through these untraceable channels. They make it difficult or impossible for civil servants to act as proper stewards of public money. They pose a profound risk to national security – only last week it was revealed that private channels used in Number 10 had been hacked. And their use guts the clear public interest, which the High Court held [para 3] exists, in good record-keeping.
The Court found it was clear that:
“some Ministers, civil servants and unpaid Government advisors have: (1) used private email accounts for communications that relate to Government business; (2) used instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp for such communications; and (3) made use of auto-delete functions.”
But before the High Court, Ministers, including the Prime Minister, contended that there was no legal duty on them to avoid that use. In a decision with profoundly troubling consequences for those with interests in transparency, national security, and public record-keeping, the High Court agreed.
We are shocked that the Government would contend for such a thing. We think it speaks volumes to the recent collapse in standards of public life.
Moreover, and with respect, we obviously do not believe the High Court’s conclusions can, or should, be the law.
The Court found that the law passed by Parliament concerning the preservation of public records gives the Government ‘a wide margin of discretion’ when it comes to making arrangements for preserving official records.
And, on the question of whether the Government is breaching its own policies, including its own Security of Government Business policy, the Court found that the policies do not create legal obligations.
The Court has granted Good Law Project permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal “in view of the importance of the issues”. You can donate to support the appeal here. All the Citizens (whose case was heard at the same time as ours and which was also dismissed) have also been given permission to appeal.
This is a very sad day indeed for those who stand against the cronyism and sleaze that characterises this administration. But we will continue the fight for accountability and transparency in the Court of Appeal.
You can read the judgment in full here.