Justice Secretary Jack Straw has vetoed the publication of minutes of key Cabinet meetings held in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003.
Jack Straw said “There is a balance to be struck between openness and maintaining aspects of our structure of democratic government,”
The fact is though that the Freedom of Information Act contains a public interest test which required the Information Tribunal to consider that balance.
I would rather that crucial decision whether or not disclosure is in the public interest was taken by an independent person rather than someone who might be embarrassed by the information.
Scrap the ministerial veto procedure!
I have today appealed to the Information Commissioner about my request to the Duchy of Lancaster under EIR.
The Duchy have refused to provide the information I asked for in my Environmental Information Request. The reason given is that the Duchy of Lancaster is ‘not a “public authority” as defined within paragraph 2 of the Regulations”. So that is it then the end of the experiment then, well not quite.
Comments are appreciated.
The Duchy website says:
“Protecting the environment Duchy lands encompass areas of outstanding natural beauty. The Duchy of Lancaster endeavours to protect the quality of the land, while respecting the commercial needs of tenants. Land use is monitored by the Duchy’s management agents to ensure that activities will not impair soil quality, and a number of farms have adopted organic farming methods. Sustainability in energy and resources is encouraged in investment and operational property owned by the Duchy.”
Under the Freedom of Act 2000 a valid request requires an address for correspondence and a real name. The ICO accepts that an email address is a valid address.
The law is unfair in several respects:
- a person writing on behalf of a company can give the company name and not their own name.
- a man with a common English surname e.g. Smith can make a valid request under the name “Mr Smith” and has a much lower chance of being identified than a person with a less usual foreign name.
- a rich person might be able to pay a researcher or a lawyer to make the request in their name. This is perfectly legal.
I would support a change to the law so that anonymous requests had to be accepted by default with a provision to allow authorities to ask for a name to be provided where they can show they have a good reason to think a request might be vexatious.
What do you think? (please comment)