U.K. Government Faces Legal Action Over Use of Private Emails

The U.K. government is facing legal action over the alleged use of private email and WhatsApp accounts by several of its ministers to conduct official business, which if found to be true would be “unlawful,” according to the group bringing the case.

The government’s policy about the use of private email accounts isn’t fit for purpose and it “seems unlikely the policy is being followed,” public-interest group Good Law Project said in a statement on Friday. The proposed judicial review comes after allegations and ex-Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Health Minister James Bethell used their private emails instead of government accounts.

The move follows a probe started by Britain’s data protection chief earlier this week into the use of private email accounts at the Department of Health and Social Care. The Good Law Project has filed several lawsuits against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government over its handling of the coronavirus crisis and how it handed out lucrative contracts to close friends.

“We don’t just think this situation is wrong, we believe it’s unlawful,” the group said in the statement. “It flies in the face of government’s legal obligations to preserve official records.”

The Good Law Project said if their action succeeds they “could force Government to put in place proper policies to close this accountability gap for good.” The group wrote a pre-action protocol letter to government lawyers July 8.

“There are appropriate arrangements in place for the management of electronic communications, including instant messages and emails,” a spokesman for the Cabinet Office, said. “Ministers and officials are aware of the guidance around personal email usage and government business is conducted in line with that guidance.”

Officials at the Cabinet Office and Department of Health and Social Care didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Hancock resigned as health secretary last month for breaking social distancing rules after being caught on camera kissing a close aide.

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