Because WhatsApp is so popular among lawmakers and government employees, detractors claim that the British government runs “government by WhatsApp.”
Therefore, it only makes sense that the main focus of Britain’s official investigation into how the nation handled the COVID-19 outbreak is a dispute over WhatsApp communications.
Numerous communications between then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson and cabinet members, advisors, and officials during the pandemic served as important evidence in the investigation led by retired judge Heather Hallett.
One of the greatest death rates in Europe, more than 200,000 people have died in Britain after testing positive for COVID-19, and Johnson’s government’s choices have been hotly contested. Johnson gave in to pressure from bereaved families in late 2021 and decided to launch an investigation.
The scope of Hallett’s investigation will focus on the UK’s pandemic readiness, the government’s response, and whether the “level of loss was inevitable or whether things could have been done better.”
The former prime minister and many other top government officials are expected to testify during public hearings that will start on June 13 and go through 2026.
A popular method of communication for UK government officials and the journalists who cover them is the Meta-owned messaging service. Users may feel secure knowing that their conversations will remain private because to its end-to-end encryption and ease of use for both solo and group chats.
This confidence has occasionally shown to be misplaced. Tens of thousands of his texts were given to a writer who was assisting Matt Hancock, a former health secretary who helped lead Britain’s response to the epidemic, in the process of writing a memoir. The journalist gave them to a newspaper, which ran a series of front-page pieces with unpleasant details.
Johnson’s correspondence with more than thirty scientists and government representatives over the course of two years beginning in early 2020 has been requested by Hallett. She also requests access to Johnson’s contemporaneous journals and notebooks.
Some of the texts, according to the Sunak administration, which took over after Johnson resigned amid scandals in the middle of 2022, are “unambiguously irrelevant” to the COVID-19 investigation. According to the statement, making them public would violate both the public’s “legitimate expectations of privacy and protection of their personal information” and other areas of government activity.
The government’s Cabinet Office submitted court documents on June 1 to contest Hallett’s request for the records. In the upcoming weeks, a hearing in the High Court will be the next step.
Many solicitors predict that the government will lose the appeal. Hallett has the authority to call witnesses and subpoena them to testify in accordance with the investigation’s rules, which were established at the outset with the consent of the government.
Former head of the government legal service Jonathan Jones stated, “The government has an uphill task,” in a blog post for the Institute for Government. The inquiry chair should determine how she conducts herself and what materials she needs to review, the court is likely to rule.