Tag Archives: ruling

Law on records of government comms is badly out-of-date, WhatsApp court ruling shows

Social media junkie: Boris Johnson is probably deleting WhatsApp messages in this shot.

The Tory government has been crowing after High Court judges said there is nothing in the law to stop ministers from using services like WhatsApp and personal email accounts to make decisions and authorise action.

But this doesn’t mean ministers are justified in carrying out their business away from the official records.

It means the law on what should be counted as a public or official record is badly out of date and must be amended at once.

In fact, let’s face it, there should have been a constant policy of updating as soon as the Internet emerged as the communications revolution it has become.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has used WhatsApp to make decisions on the procurement of ventilators and on Covid-19 testing in care homes. We only know this because his ex-aide, now enemy, Dominic Cummings took screenshots of the now-deleted messages.

The procurement decisions are important because we know the Tory government paid huge amounts to fellow Tories who were not able to fulfil the contracts, while ignoring experienced firms that could have honoured any deals easily, and lives are certain to have been lost as a result.

And we know that government failures on Covid-19 in care homes certainly led to more than 20,000 deaths there.

Lord Brownlow discussed his funding of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat refurbishment with Johnson on WhatsApp, and it has been suggested that he only put up the money because Johnson had made a vague undertaking to consider his “Great Exhibition” idea.

Then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock diverted £40 million to Alex Bourne for vials to be used in Covid-19 tests, despite his having no previous experience of providing medical supplies, after the former landlord of a pub close to Hancock’s constituency home sent him a WhatsApp message.

Lord Bethell claimed that he never used his private email or telephone accounts for official business – but then replaced his mobile phone before it could be searched for information relevant to £85m of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) deals.

None of the information in the messages mentioned above is covered by the 1958 Public Records Act, so judges at the High Court said it was not illegal to have used WhatsApp, or to have used auto-delete software to remove evidence of the decision-making carried out there:

In their ruling, Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Johnson said the 1958 act “says nothing about such matters as whether a person can use a personal device to communicate with others about government business”.

They added: “Nor… does it require the production of a record of something in the first place.”

The widespread use of instant messaging services such as WhatsApp meant it was often a forum for workplace conversations “that would previously have been undertaken face-to-face” and not recorded, the judges said.

And the act’s wording meant there would “in practice be a large measure of discretion [within government] involved as to precisely what ‘arrangements’ there should be”, according to the ruling.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said the ruling “vindicates our long-standing position that we have acted in a proper and appropriate manner” – but it doesn’t do anything of the sort. It merely states that a 64-year-old, out-of-date law did not foresee changes in the way we communicate.

Gemma Abbott, legal director of the Good Law Project, one of the groups that took the case to the High Court, had it right when she said, “The use of private email accounts by ministers creates information black holes, thwarting Freedom of Information requests and critically undermining public inquiries.”

For that reason, the law needs to be updated to bring new methods of communication under its authority.

But, having got away with a killing (or, indeed, tens of thousands of them), can you see your corrupt Tory government lifting a finger?

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#PritiPatel #bullying: can anyone explain the logic of #HighCourt ruling against union’s legal challenge?

Priti Patel and Boris Johnson. You can imagine what he’s saying to her right now: “Keep smiling because I think we’ve got away with it!”

There’s something about this judgement that isn’t quite right.

The High Court has rejected a legal challenge by civil service union the FDA against Boris Johnson’s ruling that Priti Patel’s bullying of civil servants did not break the Ministerial Code.

Lord Justice Lewis, sitting with Mrs Justice Steyn, said that Johnson had not “misdirected himself” (misinterpreted the meaning of the Ministerial Code) when coming to his decision.

The judge said: “The question for this court is whether the prime minister proceeded on the basis that conduct would not fall within the description of bullying within paragraph 1.2 of the ministerial code if the person concerned was unaware of, or did not intend, the harm or offence caused.

“Reading the statement (made by Johnson) as a whole, and in context, we do not consider that the prime minister misdirected himself in that way.”

So the question was whether Patel could be said to have bullied someone if she was unaware of – or said she was unaware of – the harm or offence she caused.

Paragraph 1.2 of the Ministerial Code states: “Ministers should be professional in all their dealings and treat all those with whom they come into contact with consideration and respect. Working relationships, including with civil servants, ministerial and parliamentary colleagues and parliamentary staff should be proper and appropriate.”

It makes no mention of whether a minister’s intentions have any bearing on whether their behaviour may breach the code; therefore Patel’s intentions were irrelevant.

This is consistent with then-advisor on ministerial standards, Sir Alex Allan’s, advice at the time: “Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals. To that extent, her behaviour has been in breach of the ministerial code, even if unintentionally.”

But Johnson’s ruling relied entirely on Patel’s intentions. He said Patel was “unaware” of the impact she had and he was “reassured” she was “sorry for inadvertently upsetting those with whom she was working”.

In response, Sir Alex immediately resigned his advisory role. He was not prepared to continue working for Johnson in the knowledge that the prime minister was willing to allow breaches of the Code in such a way.

And we see now that the High Court has ruled in favour of Johnson, saying he did not misdirect himself into thinking that her conduct did not fall under the description of bullying if Patel had been unaware that it was having that effect – which is odd, because his statement clearly shows that this is exactly what he said.

So the judges’ decision is wrong, it seems.

Also – strangely – the decision does not seem to take account of the main thrust of the defence put forward by Johnson’s lawyers, which was that the Ministerial Code is a “political document”, “does not create or impose any legal duties on ministers or the prime minister”, is “not required by law” and its contents “not regulated by law”.

The court’s decision shows that it does, it is, and it is – and the FDA union seems well pleased with that result, saying the high court had confirmed the prohibition on bullying, discrimination and harassment in the ministerial code is justiciable in the courts.

This Writer doesn’t see how that helps, if the High Court is just going to rubber-stamp Johnson’s decisions, no matter how illogical they are.

Dave Penman, the union’s general secretary, said the court had determined that “the prime minister did not acquit the home secretary of bullying” and he “did not reject the findings of Sir Alex Allan that her conduct amounted to bullying”.

If that were true, then wouldn’t the court have said that the Ministerial Code was indeed breached and Patel should resign? Bullying is, by definition, unprofessional, improper and inappropriate.

Still, if nothing else it means This Site and others can call her a bully with impunity.

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Crony contract to Tory friends was ‘unlawful’ – but government is lying about the decision

Backhander: the Tory government is still claiming there was nothing wrong with the Public First contract but the High Court’s ruling is final – it was not legal.

The High Court has ruled that a Tory government decision to award a £560,000 contract to friends of a Tory minister and advisor gave rise to “apparent bias” and was unlawful.

The Tories are already trying to spin this by saying there was no suggestion of “actual” bias, and the contract was not awarded due to personal or professional connections between Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings and their friends in Public First, Rachel Wolf and James Frayne. She co-wrote the Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto and he worked on the campaign to leave the European Union with Cummings.

I don’t know what the Cabinet Office is trying to achieve by saying that. The judge’s ruling is crystal clear: the government broke the law:

Delivering her ruling, Mrs Justice O’Farrell said: “The claimant is entitled to a declaration that the decision of 5 June 2020 to award the contract to Public First gave rise to apparent bias and was unlawful.”

Nothing else matters. Public First and the Cabinet Office can say what they like but the decision to award the contract to Tory cronies was not permitted within the law and that is the end of the matter.

This Site has been reporting on it since July last year, when the contract first became public knowledge.

I wrote at the time: “It’s jobs for the boys, the Old School Tie, and every other example of favouritism you can imagine in the Tory government during the Covid crisis!

“They’re using emergency regulations, that allow services to be commissioned quickly, to pass huge amounts of money to their friends.

“And apparently there’s a conflict of interest as it seems to involve Eurosceptics working on focus group research related to Brexit – parts of the work contracted involved research on public attitudes to Brexit, which is dodgy in a Eurosceptic firm – although a Cabinet Office spokesman said this was a bookkeeping issue. Do you believe that?

“The Tories are using the Covid-19 crisis to funnel public money away from vital services and into their friends’ bank accounts.”

And I quoted The Guardian‘s report which is interesting in that it states the contract was worth £840,000. It’s curious that these amounts always fall when people are in trouble over them – and always rise when public money is being used to pay.

One piece of information that should have been a dead giveaway was the fact that Public First’s registered office is a residential address – a house – in Long Eaton, Nottinghamshire.

Public First was also behind the disastrous plan to bias (there’s that word again) ‘A’ level results against students who didn’t go to Public Schools like Eton.

The collaboration led to the result we all know:

The algorithm used by Ofqual downgraded 40% of the A-level grades assessed by teachers under the process set after the exams were cancelled, leading to a storm of protest from students, parents, school leaders and teachers, that culminated in a complete government U-turn on Monday and the system being scrapped.

Details of this contract were not made public and Ofqual declined to say how much public money had been spent hiring the firm of Tory cronies. It was only later that the organisation had to admit handing over £49,000 of your money to buy poorer results for your children.

Ofqual’s boss at the time, Sally Collier, later resigned – apparently in shame at having given Public First the contract, and at what that firm did with it.

So now here’s the big question: if the contract to Public First was not legal, shouldn’t that money be paid back?

And if so – by whom?

Say what you like about Public First; the work was carried out. Whether it was carried out to an acceptable standard has not been recorded (and the Ofqual experience casts doubt on that) but somebody did the work that was contracted, and we may expect that it was done in good faith.

So, shouldn’t the government minister(s), who broke the law by awarding the contract wrongly, now pay back into public funds at least the £560,000 quoted in the High Court’s judgement?

Matt Hancock, maybe? Or Boris Johnson?

Source: Government acted unlawfully over firm’s £560,000 Covid contract – BBC News

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Blow for fascist Patel as court rules housing migrants in Napier Barracks ‘unlawful’ and ‘unreasonable’

Priti Patel: of course the decision to put migrants in the “squalid”, “filthy” and overcrowded Napier Barracks was “unreasonable”. Does she look reasonable to you?

The fight against Priti Patel’s fascist policy of forcing migrants to live in concentration camps like Napier Barracks in Kent has taken a major step forward.

The High Court has ruled that a Home Office decision to force migrants to live in the “squalid” and overcrowded former barracks was “unlawful”.

Home Secretary Priti Patel may now have to pay a damages claim against her, and the ruling could lead to further cases from any other men held at the camp who can bring similar evidence to court.

Mr Justice Linden made his judgement after considering evidence including details of a fire that broke out in the camp in January, and an outbreak of Covid-19 earlier this year that infected 200 people.

The judge said the camp’s failings included overcrowding, the use of communal dormitories during a pandemic, lack of ventilation, “filthy” facilities, significant fire risks, run-down buildings, and a “decrepit” isolation block that was not fit for human habitation.

He said: “I do not accept that the accommodation there ensured a standard of living which was adequate for the health of the claimants.

“Insofar as the defendant considered that the accommodation was adequate for their needs, that view was irrational.”

And he criticised the “detention-like” setting for the men.

He said: “They were supposed to live voluntarily pending a determination of their applications for asylum.

“When this is considered, a decision that accommodation in a detention-like setting – a site enclosed by a perimeter fence topped with barbed wire, access to which is through padlocked gates guarded by uniformed security personnel – will be adequate for their needs, begins to look questionable.”

Let’s be honest: these people were imprisoned there, without trial – without even having committed a crime, in accommodation that was unfit for human beings to the extent that hundreds of them contracted a disease that could have been fatal.

This Site has been reporting on the situation at Napier Barracks for a considerable period, and it would be unreasonable for Priti Patel to say she had been unaware of conditions there:

Journalist arrest after Kent refugee camp protest shows how the Tories put down dissent

As the Home Office ships more people into concentration camp, join the fight to close Napier Barracks for good

Responsibility for conditions at Napier lies squarely with the Home Secretary herself, as the Home Office’s advocate said Patel had decided the barracks could be used safely by “introducing safeguards”.

But it is clear that any such safeguards that were introduced were not enough. Is this another example of Tories refusing to fund anything that doesn’t generate a direct profit for themselves or their donors?

The judge declined to rule that the barracks could not be used to house migrants in the future – but he said there must be significant improvements.

From the judgement itself, we may reasonably deduce that these would include changing the sleeping arrangements to end communal dormitories, taking down the barbed-wire perimeter fence, padlocked gates and guards, and giving the entire site a clean.

But this is one example of Tory racism that they won’t be able to whitewash away.

Source: Napier Barracks: Housing migrants at barracks unlawful, court rules – BBC News

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Matt Hancock is gaslighting not only nurses, but ALL of us, over PPE

Smug little liar: when Matt Hancock opens his mouth to make a claim,experience shows it will probably be wrong.

Our nurses are right and Matt Hancock is a liar. He would resign if he had an ounce of integrity but of course he doesn’t, so he won’t.

He has said he would not resign after a High Court judge ruled he was responsible for unlawful delays in revealing how billions of pounds were spent on gowns, masks and other protective equipment at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge: “My officials, with my full support, spent every waking hour buying PPE so that, even though we came close, we never actually ran out of PPE in this country.

“People can make up their own view about whether I should have told my team to stop buying PPE or whether I was right to buy the PPE and get it to the front line.

“And they did that even though the paperwork got delayed by, on average, just over a fortnight.”

Nurses don’t have to make up their own minds. They have the facts. They have experienced the deaths of their colleagues, who were exposed to Covid-19 needlessly because Hancock did not supply them with PPE.

In fact, as I stated earlier, not only did the Johnson government give away the PPE it had, it later wasted millions – if not billions – giving contracts to useless Tory cronies who either couldn’t supply the goods or provided equipment that could not be used.

That will be the buying that Hancock mentioned to Ms Ridge, then?

I also mentioned the fact that nurses caught the virus because they didn’t have proper PPE:

“According to Metro,

Three nurses who wore bin bags on their shifts due to a shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE) have reportedly tested positive for coronavirus.

Just weeks ago, the nurses had shared a photo of themselves with clinical waste bags on their heads and feet as they issued a plea for proper masks, gowns and gloves at Northwick Park Hospital, in Harrow.

“I wrote: ‘One of them had said they were all “terrified” that this might happen, knowing that colleagues had caught the disease from patients, and having treated those colleagues. They had seen what the illness does… We know what the government that failed them is going to give them: Platitudes.’

“How right I was.”

Now, responding to Hancock’s comments, community nurse Angela Roberts recalled the incident when she asked:

Why were nurses forced to use bloody bin bags? Out-of-date masks?

She continued:

Why was PPE downgraded for NHS staff?

‘Why was there no PPE for care homes and community nurses except for plastic pinnies?

And Anthony Johnson, lead organiser for Nurses United, said:

He thinks that he can try to gaslight millions of health and social care workers who had to re-use PPE.

If so, he thinks wrong.

But what difference will it make if there are no consequences for his actions?

Source: Hancock is gaslighting us over PPE, say nurses | Metro

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Why did ‘celebrity’ Twitter users force suspension of ordinary woman? Because they could

Some of you have been kind enough to notice that This Writer’s @MidWalesMike account has been in the Twitter sin bin since the beginning of the month because somebody didn’t like one of my articles about the court case against Rachel Riley.

That is dangerous enough – it’s clearly an attempt to create a “chilling” effect on my crowdfunding (that, fortunately, has failed – the fund has nearly raised £125,000 since it started nearly two years ago).

But now I read that another Twitter user, who apparently has no public profile at all (she’s not a celebrity or a journalist/blogger or a member of the commentatorati), has found her account suspended, simply for expressing her dislike of an actress.

The actress in question was Tracy-Ann Oberman, who apparently searches the social media platform for any adverse comment about her. Spotting this one, it seems she claimed that the lady in question had to be an anti-Semite, even though no part of the view she expressed in her tweet conveyed any such sentiment. See for yourself:

“It’s a sin was doing so well then I saw Tracy Ann Oberman left a bad taste in my mouth … trying to quickly forget I’ve seen her.”

“Caroline do you think that YOU may be one of those intolerant bigots that Russell is talking about in #itsasin

“Seems you’ve missed the entire point of the series. You and the rest of this thread. Oh dear. @cst @UKLabour @LabourAgainstAS”

The @ tags at the end of Oberman’s tweet are significant. She was tagging in the Community Security Trust and Labour Against Anti-Semitism – both highly vocal self-proclaimed crusaders against anti-Semitism (although both could equally well be described as witch-hunters against people targeted with false claims) along with the Labour Party, because ‘Caroline’ could be seen holding a Labour membership card in her profile picture.

The implication is clear: Oberman wanted to brand ‘Caroline’ an anti-Semite and she wanted to bring Labour’s attention to it. In order to provoke disciplinary action, perhaps? Because this person had expressed an opinion about her appearance in a TV show. Overkill?

No. Overkill is what followed. Oberman’s tweet led to a dogpile so vile that even some of its participants later withdrew their comments and apologised.

I won’t go into the details but you can read about it on Zelo Street if you like.

Then – apparently after pressure from the usual cohort of “blue tick” celebrities – ‘Caroline’ had her Twitter account suspended.

I repeat that she had not expressed a single opinion that was not well within her right. If she doesn’t like Tracy-Ann Oberman, it is not for Tracy-Ann Oberman to take offence and have her hounded off of Twitter. For all Tracy-Ann Oberman knew, ‘Caroline’ had perfectly good reasons for disliking her.

Those reasons don’t have to be restricted to her acting, either. I refer to her “clitoris” comment in response to David Quantick, and her (clearly racist, in my opinion) “Is Ping Pong the Thai help?” query in response to a tweet from Liz Hurley that her parrot had spoken in human language for the first time.

Nevertheless, Tracy-Ann Oberman reacted the way she did, and now an innocent member of the public has been hounded off of Twitter.

You may be wondering why Tracy-Ann Oberman feels justified in having acted as she did. I’ll tell you the answer:

Because there is a court ruling that says she cannot be held to account for it.

It’s the ruling of Mrs Justice Collins Rice in the case brought by Oberman’s friend Rachel Riley against This Writer.

Riley’s legal team had put forward an argument that she could not possibly be held responsible for the behaviour of her followers, who abused and harassed a teenage girl with mental health problems who had had the temerity to criticise her for accusing Owen Jones (and Jeremy Corbyn) of anti-Semitism.

Riley had tagged celebrities, politicians and so-called activists against anti-Semitism into her tweets responding to the girl, who had received many hundreds of responses critical of her as a result – forcing her to quit Twitter several times for the sake of her mental health.

But the judge agreed that Riley was not responsible. Her ruling means nobody else can be, either.

And this is the result.

It is hugely damaging – not only for the safety of people like ‘Caroline’, but for everybody’s Article 10 right to Freedom of Expression according to the Human Rights Act (she was hounded off the platform for expressing an opinion about an actress, remember).

It also contradicts the intentions of Online Harms legislation that is due to pass through Parliament soon. Part of the proposed law would make participation in online dogpiles a criminal offence with serious penalties attached.

As everybody should be aware by now, I have appealed against Mrs Justice Collins Rice’s ruling.

I hope that judges at the Court of Appeal agree that it has created the opportunity for significant harm – and has already caused such harm in the case of ‘Caroline’.

If so, then we may also hope that the ruling is rescinded and the Obermans of this world lose their legal protection.

My case is still going on, I am still crowdfunding to pay its costs, and you are invited to contribute in the time-honoured ways:

Consider making a donation yourself, if you can afford it, via the CrowdJustice page.

Email your friends, asking them to pledge to the CrowdJustice site.

Post a link to Facebook, asking readers to pledge.

On Twitter, tweet in support, quoting the address of the appeal.

If you haven’t donated before, perhaps this story will encourage you.

After all, they might come for you next.

Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.

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Tory government breaks ruling ordering it to publish report on UK fracking

The obvious question – asked by Labour’s Jon Trickett in the quoted extract below – is clear:

If the Tories will break a legally-binding regulator’s ruling to hide the facts about fracking from the public, what other rules are they willing to break?

My guess is: all of them.

And if they’re hiding information from you, it’s because they are putting their own interests before those of the nation.

That’s no way for a government to behave.

The government has refused to abide by a ruling to publish parts of a report on the state of the UK’s fracking industry, Labour has pointed out.

The government was instructed by the information commissioners office (ICO) to release the document by 5pm on November 25th. This followed the failure of the cabinet office to respond to a freedom of information request submitted by Greenpeace in 2018.

The cabinet office had refused on the grounds the information “could call into question the industry’s viability” and was an internal government document exempt from the environmental information regulations.

Labour’s shadow minister for the cabinet office, Jon Trickett, said: “The Tories’ failure to publish this crucial report on fracking shows contempt for democracy and serves as a stark warning for what lies ahead if Boris Johnson is re-elected.

Labour has explicitly committed to a ban on fracking. The government halted fracking earlier this month but campaign groups are concerned that this is a temporary pause.

Source: Government refuses to publish report on fracking – LabourList

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Demand for Johnson to resign after Supreme Court’s prorogation ruling. But will he?

Boris Johnson: One may imagine that his face had a similar expression after he was woken up to be told the Supreme Court’s decision.

This morning, Boris Johnson was being urged to resign for giving public money and a place on trade junkets to a personal friend. Now he’s facing a much more serious charge.

Here’s Jeremy Corbyn:

It’s not an idle demand.

Boris Johnson has tried to overrule Parliamentary democracy, and he has manipulated the Queen in order to do so.

The only proper course of action for him now is to come back from the UN with his tail between his legs and offer the Queen his resignation.

But you can bet he won’t do that willingly.

In less than two months, he has made himself the worst prime minister the UK has ever had. The government falls further into disgrace with every day he remains in position.

But it is what he has always wanted so, like a spoiled child, he’ll stay right where he is until someone forces him out.

Let us hope that happens sooner, rather than later.

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Northern Irish judges rule Boris Johnson prorogation won’t harm the peace process

Was anybody expecting an earth-shattering turnabout as a result of this ruling?

I wasn’t. Here’s what we know at the time of writing:

Judges in Belfast have ruled that Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament for five weeks was lawful and would not damage the Northern Ireland peace process.

Lawyers for the applicants in Belfast argued that a no-deal Brexit on 31 October would undermine agreements involving the UK and Irish governments that were struck during the peace process and which underpin cross-border co-operation between the two nations.

Source: Northern Irish judges rule Boris Johnson prorogation is lawful | Politics | The Guardian

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Scottish Judge rejects parliament shutdown legal challenge

This is self-explanatory and nothing more than what was to be expected.

In any case, events have moved on and the prorogation now appears to be just another mistake by an inept, failed prime minister.

A Scottish judge has rejected a bid to have Boris Johnson’s plan to shut down parliament ahead of Brexit declared illegal.

The case was brought to the Court of Session in Edinburgh by a cross-party group of 75 parliamentarians, who argued the PM had exceeded his powers.

But Lord Doherty ruled on Wednesday that the issue was for politicians and voters to judge, and not the courts.

He said there had been no contravention of the law by the government.

Source: Brexit: Judge rejects parliament shutdown legal challenge – BBC News

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