London, Thanasis Gavos

The British government and the head of the independent public inquiry into the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lady Hallett, could be taken to court before evidence has even begun.

The reason is the baroness’s claim to receive from the relevant Cabinet Office all the official and personal messages that the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson exchanged with those involved during that period without deletions or omissions. Among those involved is the current Prime Minister and then Finance Minister Rishi Sunak.

Lady Hallett has also requested the then Prime Minister’s diaries and 24 notebooks kept by Mr Johnson.

The government has so far appeared negative, on the grounds that the disclosure of private and confidential messages would mean the end of free communication between members of the government.

Baroness Hallett, however, had initially set a deadline of 4pm on Tuesday for the messages to be handed over to her under Section 21 of the Public Inquiries Act 2005.

The deadline was extended until 4pm local time on Thursday. The Cabinet Office asked for a longer extension, until Monday 5 June as it does not have access to Mr Johnson’s messages, but this request was refused.

The government has been warned that if it does not comply then it will have committed a criminal offence.