Exemption Index logoFOIMan rummages through the diplomatic bag to find out how the FOI Act seeks to avoid international incidents.


Ambassador, you’re spoiling us.

Diplomacy is an essential part of maintaining the UK’s place in the world. It is easy to see why the government would be concerned about the possibility that FOI disclosures might cause offence to foreign powers.

However, at the time that FOI was coming into force, the UK’s international relations were under more scrutiny than ever as a result of the recent controversial invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq. Many of the early decisions involving this exemption related to this significant event.

In my time as an FOI Officer, I used this exemption to protect information relating to the London Olympics – the exemption covers relations with international organisations such as the IOC. On another occasion, it was cited to avoid offence to the Chinese government – in relation to attempts to bring pandas to London Zoo. It can be relevant to situations such as establishing and maintaining twinning relationships between towns and cities in the UK and those abroad, as much as it can be to major international conferences and treaties.

Information affected

Any information which if disclosed would or would be likely to prejudice relations between the UK and any other State; international organisation or court; the interests of the UK abroad; the promotion or protection of the UK’s interests abroad. Also confidential information obtained from another State, international organisation or court.

Things that FOI Officers need to know

Things that requesters need to know

Essential case law

Campaign Against the Arms Trade v IC & Ministry of Defence (EA/2007/0040), 26 August 2008

Gilby v IC and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (EA/2007/0007, 0071, 0079), 22 October 2008

All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition v IC & Ministry of Defence [2011] UKUT 153 (AAC), April 2011

Recommended reading

  • Awareness Guidance No 14 International Relations (section 27), Information Commissioner’s Office, October 2004 (updated January 2006), version 1.0
  • Wadham, K. Harris and G. Peretz (2011), Blackstone’s Guide to The Freedom of Information Act 2000, 4th ed., OUP, pp.120-123
  • Montague, B. and Amin, L. (2012), FOIA without the Lawyer, Centre for Investigative Journalism, pp.30-35