The government should accept today’s decision of the Information Tribunal and release the two sets of cabinet minutes from 2003 discussing the decision to go to war in Iraq, according to the Campaign for Freedom of Information. The Tribunal’s decision, made under the Freedom of Information Act, found that the balance of public interest favoured releasing the minutes.
A version of this article by the Campaign’s director, Maurice Frankel, appeared in Press Gazette on 2 May 2008.
In the past, officials’ advice to ministers, and the discussions leading to it, have been confidential. You could see it after 30 years, but not before. The Freedom of Information Act has shattered that convention.
Response to the review of the 30 year rule that was set up by the Prime Minister. The response summarises the 7 Information Tribunal decisions to date dealing with advice or internal discussion and points out that in almost every case the Tribunal has held that disclosure should have taken place at the time of the request, a few years or months after the decision. It says that this material should now be proactively released after 15 years, though if necessary, the reduction could be brought in in two stages, starting with 20 years initially. This change would also mean that these exemptions could no longer be used to withhold information under the FOI Act once it was 15 (or 20) years old.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information welcomed the Information Commissioner’s decision today that cabinet minutes dealing with the war in Iraq should be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act.
A report by the Parliamentary Ombudsman published today (July 10) reveals that the government has:
- refused to comply with part of the Ombudsman’s recommendation that the government release details of gifts given to ministers
- issued a certificate preventing the Ombudsman seeing papers of cabinet committees dealing with the passage of the Human Rights Act
- issued another certificate blocking disclosure of information about ministerial conflicts of interest on the grounds that it would be “contrary to the public interest”
Today’s publication of the Welsh Cabinet minutes, just 6 weeks after the cabinet meeting took place, was welcomed by the Campaign for Freedom of Information. The Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said the initiative “shatters the taboo that revealing cabinet proceedings before 30 years have passed will fatally undermine decision-making. The minutes reveal business-like, practical and sometimes mundane discussions and suggest that the traditional secrecy in this area may have more to do with protecting mystique than real secrets or highly sensitive discussions”.