Cabinet minutes on Iraq remain off limits

The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, says in his report submitted to Parliament on 3 September that the circumstances around Cabinet minutes on Iraq were not ‘exceptional’ – a prerequisite for the use of the Ministerial veto under FOIA.

The Attorney General overruled on 31 July an ICO decision ordering the release of minutes of a Cabinet meeting in 2003, at which military action against Iraq was discussed.

The Information Commissioner has now considered whether there is a case for a legal challenge in this case, but has come to the conclusion that ‘even if the current veto were held not to have conformed to the Statement of Policy on the use of the executive override, that would not ipso facto indicate any breach of the law’.

“Having considered the matter carefully, my view is that the circumstances of this case are by no means exceptional,” Graham writes in the ICO blog. “But if the veto continues to be routinely exercised whenever the ICO does order the disclosure of Cabinet minutes, particularly when significant time has passed since the decision was made, then it is hard to imagine how freedom of information can ever be used to secure the release of even the most significant proceedings of the Cabinet.”

The Information Commissioner intends to lay a report before Parliament under section 49(2) FOIA on each occasion that the veto is exercised.

See the current report on the ministerial veto on disclosure of parts of the minutes of Cabinet meetings in March 2003.