Why are Ministers using private emails?

by Good Law Project

Why are Ministers using private emails?

by Good Law Project
Good Law Project
Case Owner
Good Law Project's mission is to achieve change through the law. We use litigation to uphold democracy, protect the environment and ensure no one is left behind.
9
days to go
£58,342
pledged of £75,000 stretch target from 2,508 pledges
Pledge now
Good Law Project
Case Owner
Good Law Project's mission is to achieve change through the law. We use litigation to uphold democracy, protect the environment and ensure no one is left behind.
Pledge now

This case is raising funds for its stretch target. Your pledge will be collected within the next 24-48 hours (and it only takes two minutes to pledge!)

Latest: July 23, 2021

Government admits more Ministers used private emails

Following the revelations that disgraced former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Health Minister Lord Bethell used private email accounts for Government business, our lawyers wrote to Gove…

Read more

Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and Lord Bethell have all been reportedly using private email accounts or Whatsapp for Government business, discussing matters of national importance - from the spread of Covid-19 in care homes to the award of lucrative Government contracts. 

But why would Ministers choose to use personal accounts rather than official channels?

An email exchange between senior officials about a legal case being brought by Good Law Project over a controversial contract is perhaps revealing. The senior official explains that because Matt Hancock conducted his duties as Health Minister using his private email, they think this means there would be a “substantial” threshold for civil servants to request access to his emails to check if they should be disclosed to the Court. 

They seem to believe this is a loophole to avoid scrutiny. If politicians think they can evade oversight from the Courts or dodge Freedom of Information requests by using private email and Whatsapp, the question becomes: what have they got to hide?

Government does have a policy in place about the use of private email, but we don’t think it is fit for purpose - not least because it fails to set out when and why it would ever be acceptable for politicians to use their own accounts. And it seems unlikely the policy is being followed in any event, because there’s no evidence that steps are generally being taken to ensure that information held by Ministers on private emails or Whatsapp is recorded on Government systems. 

We don’t just think this situation is wrong, we believe it’s unlawful. It flies in the face of Government’s legal obligations to preserve official records and undermines its ability to comply with Freedom of Information requests and the duty of candour required by the Courts. 

We are taking legal action. If we are successful, we could force Government to put in place proper policies to close this accountability gap for good. If you believe that Government business should be conducted transparently, please consider donating to this legal challenge. 


Details

Good Law Project has instructed Joseph Barrett and Rupert Paines of 11KBW, and Rook Irwin Sweeney, who are being paid at significantly below market rates. You can read the Pre Action Protocol letter here. 10% of the sums raised will go to Good Law Project to help it develop and support further litigation in the public interest. It is our policy only to raise sums that we reasonably anticipate could be spent on this litigation. However, if there is a surplus it will go to support and enable other litigation we bring.

Update 1

Good Law Project

July 23, 2021

Government admits more Ministers used private emails

Following the revelations that disgraced former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Health Minister Lord Bethell used private email accounts for Government business, our lawyers wrote to Government lawyers asking them to confirm they had searched the private email accounts of Ministers for material relevant to our PPE procurement challenges. 

We received an extraordinary response from Government. 

In it Government admits for the first time that as well as Hancock and Bethell – Trade Minister Greg Hands and the PPE Tsar, Lord Deighton – the Tory Peer directly appointed by Boris Johnson and responsible for coordinating the multi-billion pound procurement process – were using private email accounts. 

But still, it refuses to search those accounts. 

We are left with the farcical situation of Government behaving like the three wise monkeys, declining even to look at what business private email accounts were used to conduct.

How can Government lawyers be sure they have complied with their duty to put their cards face up on the table when they won’t even look at their cards? We have the prospect of highly partial disclosure on VIP contracts worth hundreds of millions or billions of pounds.

Government has also so far refused to confirm that relevant emails in Ministers’ personal accounts will be included in the future public inquiry.

The Government is shaping up to be as evasive as possible. But we won’t back down. Support our fight for full disclosure here.

    There are no public comments on this case page.