FOI marches on
Freedom of information is still in the news, with two court cases today.
The Campaign Against the Arms Trade is asking the Information Trbunal to order the release of documents relating to arms dealing between the UK and Saudi Arabia. The Information Commissioner has previously rejected CAAT's case on the basis it would harm UK relations with Saudi Arabia, but the Tribunal has an occasional habit of over-ruling him in the direction of greater disclosure.
The other case is in the High Court, where the Office of Government Commerce is appealing against a Tribunal decision that it should publish a Gateway review of the Home Office's identity cards programme.
This will be followed later in the month by another important appeal in the High Court about access to information, although this one is under the Environmental Information Regulations. In this case the Export Credits Guarantee Department is appealing against the Tribunal's ruling that it should release documents relating to the huge Sakhalin oil and gas project in Russia. This stems from an information request made by Friends of the Earth.
It is the first time such cases have reached the High Court. These two could therefore become greatly important in laying down precedents on the disclosure of internal government policy documents on matters of current controversy.
Last month was a very eventful one in the development of FOI in the UK, with the first Commissioner ruling that cabinet minutes should be disclosed, the far-reaching Tribunal judgment about the details of MPs' expenses, the ministerial resignation in Northern Ireland of Ian Paisley junior following FOI stories, and the first Tribunal decision that legal advice should be made public. (Maurice Frankel of the Campaign for Freedom of Information gave a thought-provoking assessment of these and other recent FOI happenings in a seminar last week at the Constitution Unit).
It looks like March will be eventful too for FOI.