The Government who pioneered “open government” and the Freedom of Information Act, are certainly not living up to spirit of the law they created. In 1996 Tony Blair stated, in a speech about open government, that “The only way to begin to restore people’s trust [in Government] is therefore to be completely open“.
However despite this laudable goal, and numerous other assertions of “open government, a request to access the cabinet record minutes in relation to the Iraq war has been refused by the Labour Government.
This is particulary interesting as both the Information Tribunal and the ICO have stated that the minutes should be released.
The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas has publicly stated that:
“My Decision to order disclosure of the Cabinet minutes was made under the Freedom of Information Act on public interest grounds. It was upheld by the Information Tribunal. It was made clear by the Tribunal and by me that this was an exceptional case.
The government has chosen not to appeal the Tribunal’s decision to the High Court, but instead has exercised its right of veto under the FOI Act. However, it is vital that this is also an exceptional response. Anything other than exceptional use of the veto would threaten to undermine much of the progress made towards greater openness and transparency in government since the FOI Act came into force.
I shall be studying the text of the Secretary of State’s Certificate and Statement of Reasons which I received today. Using the power available to me under section 49(2) of the Freedom of Information Act, I will shortly lay a report before Parliament to record the circumstances leading to this outcome. This will be in line with previous commitments I have made and the interest shown by past Select Committees in the potential use of the veto.”
This case of the government of refusing to release data, follows quickly on from the “torture case“, where the UK government has evidence of torture, which is redacted, but will not allow the redacted text to be seen, despite the trial judge stating its in the public interest.