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Guardian Angel?

Martin Rosenbaum | 17:00 UK time, Monday, 29 January 2007

Who is the watchdog who acts as guardian of whether or not public authorities are fulfilling their duty to be open under the Freedom of Information Act?

It is usually said to be the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas. But in practice is it turning out to be John Angel, the lawyer who chairs the Information Tribunal?

The Tribunal's role is to hear appeals from those who are dissatisfied with a decision made by the Commissioner. I've been looking at their list of cases which the Tribunal has so far decided.

A rough-and-ready analysis of the 34 FOI or EIR decisions shows that in 11 of them - nearly one in three - the Tribunal overturned the Commissioner's decision. And in 9 of these 11 cases, the Tribunal's view can be regarded as being more in favour of openness than the Commissioner's (while one decision is effectively neutral and one more disposed to secrecy).

What's also interesting is that decisions taken by the Tribunal when John Angel is sitting as one of its members seem to be more likely to favour openness than those taken when one of his deputies is acting as the legally qualified member of the Tribunal panel.

(However I should add the caveats that this may reflect the nature of the cases rather than anything else and that this is based on a crude summary of the outcome rather a nuanced assessment of the full implications of each decision.)

Yet, while Richard Thomas is a public figure, Mr Angel is not. I believe the Information Tribunal website used to have a list of its members with brief biographies, but this seems to have been taken down.

Would you like to become one of the Tribunal's lay members, so you too can have the chance to help overrule or uphold the Commissioner's decisions? If you are interested, here are the details of a recent recruitment exercise.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 11:47 AM on 28 Mar 2007,
  • Kevin wrote:

Hi Martin,

I have come across your blog and have found it fascinating. I would also like to applaud the dry humour and slight cynicism with which it’s written. Keep up the good work and maybe one day those within the FOI community might get to the heart of government policy making and decisions.


Thanks fr the info on the Tribunal. A case I started 2 and a half years ago goes to the tribunal tomorrow (Weds 4th April) as the Dept of Health have appealed against the ICs ruling that the report by Sir William Wells into to NHS University.

I getting a last look at some info to help prepare me for tomorrow & found this useful.


  • 3.
  • At 12:07 PM on 07 Apr 2007,
  • REG HARGRAVE wrote:

I am just about to file my Appeal form with the Information Tribunal. For the past 11 years I have been battling nwith 3 government departments concerning the unsolved murder of a friend and neighbour in 1954. Yes 1954. I cannot afford to employ Counsel so will obviously be disadvantaged somewhat if the Info. Commissioner (at the public expense)uses expensive lawyers. I believe that if a lay person is conducting his/her own case the IC should have to do the same.

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