FOI Man is mentioned in the national press, the Lord GO’D descends upon the Justice Select Committee, and the relationship between FOI and the Human Rights Act is to be examined in the Supreme Court
Pleased to be quoted in a piece in the Telegraph Online (not sure if it will make it to print – we’ll see) which is effectively a follow-up to my Save FOI piece the other week on the NHS pointing out that whilst FOI undoubtedly costs money, it should be seen in perspective against other expenditure being carried out by public bodies. I think this is a really important point, and I hope more journalists, politicians (especially the Justice Select Committee members) and others pick it up. In a week where we’ve seen those on the highest rate of tax get a tax cut, it seems a topical point.
Talking of the Justice Select Committee, it’s been announced today that there will be another oral hearing next Tuesday 27th March. This promises to be quite a blockbuster, featuring Lord Gus O’Donnell, Sue Slipman of the Foundation Trust Network and several other NHS representatives, and Lord Peter Hennessy (who those with a bent for constitutional and modern British history will no doubt have a soft spot for). My prediction (for which I hardly need a crystal ball) is that FOI will receive a good going over next Tuesday. If you want to get a sense of the issues that will come up together with my response to them, you can take a look at:
- My piece on Cabinet papers and FOI, answering the Lord GO’D’s previous comments on this subject
- My piece on the NHS and the cost of FOI, answering Sue Slipman’s previous comments
- The short debate in the House of Lords on FOI introduced by Lord Hennessy a few weeks ago (I suspect that he will have some sympathy with the chilling argument, as he fears that historians like himself will lose out when Cabinet papers are released in future years due to civil servants and politicians pulling their punches).
How the Committee members handle these witnesses will tell us quite a lot about the direction that they are going in. So Tuesday will be another important day for the future of FOI. If you can, watch Parliament TV’s live coverage or follow @SaveFOI on Twitter – we will be live tweeting the whole thing, technical constraints allowing.
The relationship between FOI and the Human Rights Act has been coming under some scrutiny of late. Times journalist Dominic Kennedy has pursued his request to the Charity Commission in relation to George Galloways’s Mariam Appeal to the Court of Appeal, arguing that the refusal of his request under section 32 of the FOI Act breached Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (which HRA brings into UK law). Article 10 is the right to freedom of expression. There has been much debate about the extent to which the right to access information comes within the ECHR and therefore HRA, so this is an important case. The Court of Appeal ruled against Kennedy, but importantly allowed him to appeal to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has muddied the waters rather of late with its decision in the Sugar v BBC case where they ruled that Article 10 did not affect the BBC’s refusal to disclose a report which it argued related to its journalistic pursuits (covered by the BBC’s derogation). This appeared to fly in the face of several recent European Court of Human Rights decisions. The story is covered with much greater applomb (and indeed knowledge) by Adam Wagner on the UK Human Rights Blog and you can also read the decision of the Court of Appeal if you want to know more.
Meanwhile, we’re still waiting to hear why the Information Tribunal thinks the NHS Strategic Risk Register should be disclosed. Jill Rutter at the Institute for Government speculates that it might not really be worth the wait. Good job really.