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Campaigners to appeal after losing court battle over ministers’ communications

WhatsApp app icon on a smartphone (Nick Ansell/PA)
WhatsApp app icon on a smartphone (Nick Ansell/PA)

Campaigners say they aim to appeal after losing a High Court fight over ministers’ use of private communication systems such as WhatsApp.

Two campaign groups, All the Citizens and the Good Law Project, complained that ministers were breaching the law by deleting messages and using private accounts for Government business.

Ministers disputed their claims.

Two judges on Friday dismissed the groups’ challenge after considering evidence at a recent High Court hearing in London.

But Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Johnson said the Government had said “some of its policies” would be re-written in the light of the ruling.

A spokeswoman for the Good Law Project said it aimed to appeal.

“The court found that the Public Records Act 1958, 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,” she said, after the ruling.

“On the question 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.”

Gemma Abbott, the Good Law Project’s legal director, added: “The use of private email accounts by ministers creates information blackholes, thwarting Freedom of Information requests and critically undermining public inquiries.

“At a time when trust in politics is at an all-time low, it’s shocking that the Government would argue in court that there is no issue in running the country like this.

“With respect, we do not believe the High Court’s conclusions can or should be the law and we will therefore be seeking permission to appeal.”

A police officer outside Downing Street, London (Philip Toscano/PA)
A police officer outside Downing Street, London (Philip Toscano/PA)

The two judges said, in a summary of their written ruling, that the Government accepted that ministers (including Prime Minister Boris Johnson) and officials had sometimes used private communication systems and have made use of auto-delete functions.

But they said ministers disputed that legislation was being breached.

“It (the Government) agrees there has sometimes been non-compliance with policy, but it disputes that its internal policies are enforceable by a court,” judges added.

“It says that some of its policies will be re-written in the light of the court’s judgment in this case.”

Judges said they had concluded that “policies” relied on by the two campaign groups were “not enforceable in a claim for judicial review” and “not contrary to any legal obligation on the Government”.

They ruled that legislation did not “impose an obligation to create or retain records” and did not “prohibit automatic deletion”.

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