A number of Tribunal decisions have dealt with requests for minutes of cabinet meetings. Section 35 is inevitably relied upon, and arguments about both collective responsibility and confidentiality ensue.


The most famous concerned the decision to go to war in Iraq, which case saw disclosure being ordered by the Tribunal, but vetoed by Jack Straw.


More recently (Cabinet Office v ICO (EA/2010/ 0031)), the Tribunal has ordered disclosure of the cabinet’s meeting on 9th January 1986, in which Michael Heseltine resigned over the Westland Helicopter decision.


The Tribunal agreed that cabinet minutes are of the highest sensitivity, and should only be disclosed in rare cases “where it involves no apparent threat to the cohesive working of Cabinet government, whether now or in the future”. Relevant factors include: the passage of time, the departure of the relevant ministers from active politics, publication of memoirs and ministerial statements describing the meeting, the issue lacking ongoing significance, the ‘objectivity value’ where publicised accounts conflict, and whether the issue is of “particular political or historical significance”.


The last-mentioned factor was one Jack Straw expressly disagreed with when issuing the certificate of veto mentioned above: in other words, his position was that the more momentous a decision, the greater the need for confidentiality.


Many of these factors were, however, at work in the present case: for example, Margaret Thatcher and Michael Heseltine both made (acrimonious) public statements about the meeting at the time, and the meeting has since surfaced in plenty of memoirs. The outcome was that, whilst section 35 was engaged, the public interest favoured disclosure.


No sign of the incumbent Lord Chancellor, Ken Clarke – who, incidentally, was in the cabinet and present for the 1986 Westland Helicopter meeting – reaching for the veto just yet.


The Tribunal concluded its judgment with stringent criticism of the Cabinet Office’s delay in dealing with this request. The Cabinet Office is one of the 33 authorities on the ICO’s first monitoring list – on which, see my post below.