Covid, the Cabinet and a tussle over disclosure: R (Cabinet Office) v The Chair of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry
26 July 2023
In a decision that may come as little surprise to those working in the fields of inquiries and public law, the Divisional Court consisting of Dingemans LJ and Garnham J dismissed the Cabinet Office’s application for judicial review of a notice issued by Baroness Hallett, the Chair of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry (“the Inquiry”) requesting the production of WhatsApp messages.
The issues for determination related to the scope of the powers of the Chair under the Inquiries Act 2005 to seek and obtain material in the course of her investigations pursuant to the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference. The Cabinet Office sought to argue that some of the material sought by the Chair was “unambiguously irrelevant” to the Terms of Reference. The Chair’s position was that all documents she requested were of “potential relevance” to her lines of investigation. The Divisional Court gave permission to apply (i.e. met the threshold for review and the claim raised an important issue as to the interpretation of the Inquiries Act 2005) but went on to dismiss the substantive claim.
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