Court of Appeal rulings strengthens FOI Act and government veto will now exclude environmental information

12/03/2014
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The Court of Appeal has today overturned the government’s veto of an Upper Tribunal decision ordering the release of Prince Charles’ correspondence with ministers.  The Guardian newspaper had applied for the correspondence under the Freedom of Information Act. The Upper Tribunal, which deals with high level FOI appeals, had ordered disclosure, but the Attorney General had vetoed the tribunal's decision.

The Freedom of Information Campaign’s director, Maurice Frankel, said “the FOI Act has an elaborate appeal process, which the government could have used to challenge a decision it believed was wrong. Instead it has attempted to squash the decision, bypassing the need to argue its case, by use of a veto. The court’s ruling will make it much harder for government to override a well argued tribunal case in future. Disagreeing with the decision will not be enough, it will have to show why the decision is flawed or that circumstances have changed since it was reached. That is a major improvement to the public's right to know."

The Court of Appeal has also ruled that the veto cannot apply to environmental information at all. "This fundamentally strengthens the public’s rights to know what public authorities are doing about environmental issues”, Mr Frankel said.

But the Campaign said that although these letters may now have to be disclosed, subject to any appeal, Prince Charles’s subsequent correspondence will remain confidential as the FOI Act has since been amended to exclude it from access.

Today’s court decision, in which the Information Commissioner was an “Interested Party,” concluded that the Attorney-General “had no good reason for overriding the meticulous decision of the UT reached after six days of hearing and argument. He could point to no error of law or fact in the Upper Tribunal’s ….decision and the Government Departments concerned did not even seek permission to appeal it. The certificate is also unlawful because it is incompatible with EU law.”

Notes
The Court of Appeal's 26 page judgment is available from http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Judgments/r-oao-evans-v-hmag-and-other.pdf

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