ALISTER Jack has been accused of having a “brass neck” for criticising the Scottish Government over the Section 35 court battle after it emerged UK ministers spent £200,000 on a failed legal challenge to keep Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages secret.

The Scottish Secretary last week confirmed the UK Government will seek expenses after Scottish ministers dropped the fight over the blocking of gender reform legislation passed by Holyrood, with costs reported to be around £150,000.

Jack has criticised the Scottish Government for pursuing the litigation “in spite of the cost to the taxpayer” and said the money would be better used on issues such as cutting NHS waiting lists and improving education.

However, data obtained under Freedom of Information has revealed the UK Government spent nearly £200,000 on a failed bid to block a request to hand over an unredacted cache of documents including Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages, notebooks and diaries to the UK Covid Inquiry.

READ MORE: Scottish Government officially scraps gender reform legal appeal

At the time, bereaved families criticised the Cabinet Office’s judicial review, which it lost in July last year, as a “desperate waste of time and money”.

An SNP source said: "Instead of attacking the Scottish Government for standing up for democracy, Alister Jack should be apologising to hard-working people across Scotland for wasting their money trying to protect Boris Johnson.

“Considering the UK Government spent almost £200,000 of taxpayers money trying to hide from scrutiny, it is beyond belief they have the brass neck to pursue the Scottish Government for simply standing up for the democratic decisions of the Scottish Parliament."

The National:

Jack announced on Wednesday that the UK Government will seek to be reimbursed for the case stemming from his blocking of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, which he said would impact UK-wide equalities legislation.

The use of Section 35 of the Scotland Act - which was the first in the history of devolution - was challenged by the Scottish Government at the Court of Session, but it ruled it was lawful.

Scottish ministers opted not to pursue the challenge further last month and a spokesperson for the Scottish Government said the costs were incurred in “protecting the powers of the Scottish Parliament”.

Speaking about the case, Jack had said: “The Scottish Government chose to pursue this litigation in spite of the cost to the taxpayer.

“These resources would have been better spent addressing the priorities of people in Scotland - such as growing the economy, cutting NHS waiting lists and improving our children’s education.

“The UK Government now intends to lodge an application with the Court seeking our expenses in defending this matter.”

Meanwhile, the FOI response in relation to the Cabinet judicial review costs states: “As is standard across all Government accounting functions, the time to settle and finalise legal costs must be accounted for.

READ MORE: Court of Session: UK Government CAN block Scottish gender reform bill

“While the intention is to publish this information at a later stage, we are content to disclose that as of November 2023, the total legal costs for the judicial review on the production of government and ministerial WhatsApp messages to the inquiry were £192,739.”

WhatsApp messages have been a key part of the UK Covid Inquiry, revealing explosive evidence and raising questions over the retention of records by governments.

The inquiry has heard that around 5000 WhatsApp messages on Johnson’s phone are missing, while then-first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s messages on the app during the pandemic were deleted.

The Cabinet Office has said its judicial review application was valid, as it raised issues over the Inquiries Act 2005, which have now been clarified.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “It is in the public interest that the inquiry is thorough, rigorous and comprehensive, but also delivers its report without excessive delay.

“Costs associated with the judicial review are in the public domain."

The Scotland Office declined to comment.