Two new Upper Tribunal decisions: commercial confidentiality, ministerial communications

The Upper Tribunal has issued two decisions on information rights matters this week. Both are by Upper Tribunal Judge David Williams, and both include substantive treatments of some of the issues that arise most commonly in information rights litigation.

Natural Resources Wales and SI Green (UK) Ltd v Information Commissioner and Friends of the Earth Swansea [2013] UKUT 0473 (AAC) saw the Upper Tribunal overturn a First-Tier decision on commercial confidentiality under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, concerning the operation of a landfill site near Swansea. I was not involved in the First-Tier Tribunal proceedings, but blogged on the decision here. The Upper Tribunal’s decision is here. It found that, contrary to the approach of the First-Tier Tribunal, regulation 12(5)(e) EIR (confidentiality of commercial or industrial information where such confidentiality is provided by law to protect a legitimate economic interest) is not the same as section 41(1) of FOIA (actionable breach of confidence).

In Judge Williams’ second judgment published this week, he upheld the First-Tier Tribunal’s decision in Cabinet Office v IC and Gavin Aitchison (EA/2011/0263). Anya blogged on the First-Tier Tribunal decision here. In essence, it concerned the takeover of Rowntree by Nestle in 1988 and what, if anything, ministers in the Thatcher government had said to each other about it. Questions also arose about the relevance of the reduction of the ‘Twenty-Year Rule’ for historical records to a ‘Ten-Year Rule’. The relevant exemptions were sections 35(1)(a) and (b) (formulation or development of government policy; Ministerial communications). The Tribunal found the public interest to favour disclosure (and, as regards one part of the request, confirming or denying whether any information was held relating to Cabinet discussions on the topic). The Upper Tribunal agreed. See here: Cab Off Aitchison GIA 4281 2012-00, and also the coverage by the requester (a journalist at the York newspaper The Press) here.

Given my involvement in both cases, I don’t offer any analysis on Panopticon today. Instead, I offer them as weekend reading for enthusiasts. You’re welcome.

Robin Hopkins