On Tuesday, Good Law Project is back in Court. We’re challenging Ministers’ persistent use of personal email accounts and messaging apps to conduct Government business.
Our case focuses on two crucial questions: why are Ministers using non-Government communication channels rather than their official devices and emails? And what measures is the Government putting in place to ensure this doesn’t lead to a colossal information black hole?
Ministers’ flagrant use of unofficial communication channels doesn’t just fly in the face of rules designed to preserve crucial information, it’s also a matter of national security. The Government’s own Security of Government Business policy clearly states Ministers should “not use [their] personal devices, email and communications applications for Government business..” and that personal IT will “not be as secure” as Government devices. National security experts – and even the then-Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland – have acknowledged that there are huge security risks involved.
This is an important case in the battle for accountability. But going up against the significant resources of the Government is expensive. In this case, we have secured a cost-capping order which means if we lose, we will need to pay £125,000 for Government costs, as well as the costs of our own legal team. So far, we have managed to raise £76,000.
If you are in a position to do so, you can donate to the legal challenge here.
We know first-hand how difficult it is to hold Government to account when unofficial communications systems are used. Take our Abingdon Health case. We’ve had to expend hundreds of hours of lawyers’ time seeking disclosure of important evidence, because communications of relevant parties, such as Matt Hancock and Lord Bethell, had been carried out via text messages, WhatsApp or personal email and had not been recorded on Government systems.
And Matt Hancock and Lord Bethell are not the only ones. Department of Health ministers are said to have used WhatsApp to discuss the dire situation in care homes during the pandemic. Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove and Nadhim Zahawi are all reported to have exchanged texts with David Cameron discussing the scandal-hit Greensill (with Zahawi unfortunately deleting the texts without any record being kept). And perhaps most worryingly of all, the Prime Minister is a persistent offender – most recently he was reported to be in “regular WhatsApp contact” with the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (despite messages between the crown prince and Jeff Bezos being blamed for the hacking of Jeff Bezos’ phone).
There are rules in place to preserve important information and protect national security. We are asking Ministers to follow those rules, instead of encouraging and perpetuating a culture of secrecy and unaccountability. Our case will be heard alongside a case being brought by All the Citizens and Foxglove.
Here is some more information about the case:
Boris Johnson and three Ministers breached national security guidance over private messages: https://goodlawproject.org/update/boris-johnson-breached-security-guidance/
Lord Bethell and Matt Hancock to hand over private messages: https://goodlawproject.org/update/lord-bethell-and-matt-hancock-to-hand-over-private-messages/
Boris Johnson ignored security advice over use of personal phone: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/boris-johnson-ignored-security-advice-over-use-of-personal-phone-pq7c2g30g
UK ministers are tempting Russian hackers to strike again by using shoddy email security, former natsec official warns: https://www.businessinsider.com/uk-ministers-using-private-emails-vulnerable-to-russian-hacking-2021-9?r=US&IR=T
Matt Hancock’s conduct was threat to security, justice secretary admits: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/matt-hancock-emails-national-security-b1873839.html
Attempt to force release of Johnson’s messages on Covid in care homes fails: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/26/attempt-to-force-release-of-johnsons-messages-on-covid-in-care-homes-fails
Minister deleted his texts with Cameron about Greensill: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/minister-deleted-his-texts-with-cameron-about-greensill-3sxzc7ckk
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