September 30th, 2010 by Rachel Kamm
28 September 2010 was International Right to Know Day. The Information Commissioner published a press notice to mark the day, making the topical point that “Freedom of Information shines a torch into the dark corners of public service, identifying wasted money and duplication of effort“. The Ministry of Justice took the opportunity to remind people that it is currently looking at extending the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.
September 8th, 2010 by Robin Hopkins
Mr Todd has lodged an appeal against a decision notice of the Commissioner involving the BBC. He will be a litigant in person at the Tribunal hearing. He applied to the Tribunal for permission to publish on his blog the pleadings lodged by the Commissioner and the BBC, so as to “recruit advice and assistance from other members of a wide community of on-line democratic activists who may have relevant and informal contributions to make to my case”. In other words, he argued that publication would help him achieve equality of arms.
Neither the Commissioner nor the BBC objected to his doing so in this particular case. The Commissioner, however, contended that litigants had no automatic right to publish pleadings in a ‘live’ case, but could only do so with the leave of the Tribunal on a case-by-case basis. The BBC on the other hand, contended that the Tribunal had no power to authorise such publication under the Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (General Regulatory Chamber) Rules 2009.
The Tribunal agreed with the Commissioner (see its ruling here), and authorised the publication of the pleadings in this case. It is therefore theoretically open to litigants in person to take this approach – but only with the permission of the Tribunal. Importantly, the Tribunal’s reason for allowing publication in this case appears to have been the lack of objection by the other parties and not Mr Todd’s ‘equality of arms’ argument, which it expressly rejected. It seems then that the views of the respondents will be crucial to any such applications in future.
September 1st, 2010 by Anya Proops QC
Tony Blair has given an interview in today’s Guardian in which he robustly defends (almost) all of his actions as Prime Minister. Notable exceptions include the ban on fox-hunting and, somewhat surprisingly, the Freedom of Information Act. Thus, Martin Kettle of the Guardian reports: ‘Some things about his record in office he does not defend. One is the Freedom of Information Act. “It’s not practical for government,” he says. “If you are trying to take a difficult decision and you’re weighing up the pros and cons, you have frank conversations. Everybody knows this in their walk of life. Whether you are in business – or running a newspaper – there are conversations you want to have preliminary to taking a decision that are frank. And if those conversations then are put out in a published form that afterwards are liable to be highlighted in particular ways, you are going to be very cautious. That’s why it’s not a sensible thing.”’ Query whether the current PM would be prepared to make a similar declaration. You can find the article here.