Judges ordered an investigation last July when details of an embargoed Court of Appeal ruling were published online by The Sun newspaper.
The ruling, to allow Begum to return to the UK to fight for her British citizenship, had been shared in advance with lawyers, officials, and selected ministers, but with strict instructions that the decision should only become public when handed down by the court.
Sir Jonathan Jones QC, the government’s former treasury solicitor, was put in charge of the internal investigation. The Standard can reveal that the probe failed to find evidence of a leak, but discovered the ruling had been shared more widely than expected and some security procedures “had not been followed correctly”.
The investigation into a possible contempt of court was then closed. The Court of Appeal’s ruling in Begum’s case was damaging for the Government, as it opened the door for her to return to the UK to fight to regain her British citizenship.
The Supreme Court has since reversed that decision. The Sun’s story, published online on July 15 last year, quoted “senior government sources” as it broke the news of the court’s decision.
Lawyers for Begum suggested the leak could have been an attempt by someone “to strike first in the media” and “set the agenda”. Sir Jonathan’s report reveals the ruling — or its existence — was shared with 54 people, who were given stern warnings amid concerns about an “unhelpful backdrop of leaks”.
On July 10, the judgment was shared with a group within the Home Office, including Ms Patel and minister James Brokenshire. “To minimise the risk of even the fact of the judgment leaking out, we will inform several named individuals (including the PM) of the fact of the expected hand-down, late Tuesday.
“We will provide the same firm warnings around the unhelpful backdrop of alleged leaks,” an email noted.
On July 15, the Sun contacted government aides about the ruling. A story revealing the court’s decision was published on the Sun website that evening, but was then deleted.
The final report found “no clear evidence of a breach of the embargo” and “no evidence that any individual had passed the information to a journalist”.
But the report also concluded: “Internal procedures had not been followed correctly, this focused around printing the judgment and recording what happened to those printed documents.”
The investigation “identified some evidence that the embargoed judgment had been shared beyond the names provided to the court”.
The Government said Sir Jonathan and his office had not been in direct correspondence with ministers over the alleged leak, and there was no written contact between the investigation and the Prime Minister’s former special advisers Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain.