Freedom of Information: News

Ministers take openDemocracy to court to avoid handing over secret Covid review

The Department of Health and Social Care has appealed to a tribunal to avoid having to hand over the documents

Jenna Corderoy
Jenna Corderoy
7 December 2022, 1.02pm

Eat Out to Help Out, the government's scheme to encourage the public to return to high street restaurants and cafes in summer 2020. The Department of Health and Social Care has been sitting on a 'lessons learnt' review of the pandemic for 18 months


PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

The government is taking openDemocracy to court to resist having to publish its secret “lessons learnt” review of the Covid pandemic.

Chiefs at the Department of Health and Social Care only last month agreed to publish the document, following an 18-month Freedom of Information battle that ended with a disclosure order by the independent watchdog.

But we were told today that the department had lodged an appeal against the order by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). It means an information tribunal is likely to be held next year.

Layla Moran, the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, called it a “blatant attempt by the government to gloss over its cack-handed management of the pandemic” and “an insult to the British public”.

Get our free Daily Email

Get one whole story, direct to your inbox every weekday.

The news coincides with the launch and publication of former health secretary Matt Hancock’s pandemic diaries as a hardback book – and the same department’s refusal to hand over his official ministerial diaries covering the same period.

openDemocracy has a strong record of winning Freedom of Information cases – our most recent being against the Cabinet Office.  

The existence of the ‘lessons learnt’ review was revealed by HuffPost UK last year. But the DHSC refused to hand it over, claiming that its release would be “likely to undermine the safe space for experts and government officials to debate live policy issues”. 

It is thought to be the work of civil servants in the DHSC conducting internal assessments of what went wrong to improve best practice.

An independent inquiry into the UK’s response to the pandemic is already under way. Officially launched in July, the inquiry will examine how well prepared the UK was for a pandemic, as well as the decisions taken by the UK government once Covid arrived.

We rely on the backing of our readers to keep going. If you think it's important that the government release documents like this, back our work here.

Why should you care about freedom of information?

From coronation budgets to secretive government units, journalists have used the Freedom of Information Act to expose corruption and incompetence in high places. Tony Blair regrets ever giving us this right. Today's UK government is giving fewer and fewer transparency responses, and doing it more slowly. But would better transparency give us better government? And how can we get it?

Join our experts for a free live discussion at 5pm UK time on 15 June.

Hear from:

Claire Miller Data journalism and FOI expert
Martin Rosenbaum Author of ‘Freedom of Information: A Practical Guidebook’; former BBC political journalist
Jenna Corderoy Investigative reporter at openDemocracy and visiting lecturer at City University, London
Chair: Ramzy Alwakeel Head of news at openDemocracy

We’ve got a newsletter for everyone

Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a free openDemocracy newsletter for you.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData