Freedom of Information: government could be forced to release ministerial diaries under court ruling

Release would "not assist the understanding of the processes of government", according to senior figures


PA

By Nicholas Mairs

25 May 2017

Photo credit: PA

Ministers could be forced to release the contents of private diaries, following a ground-breaking challenge in favour of a Freedom of Information request.

Judges unanimously ruled that the government should disclose details of meetings documented by former health secretary Andrew Lansley prior to the passage of the Health and Social Care Act five years ago.

Campaigners say the case is of particular importance as a result of claims that Lansley – who was in post from 2010 to 2012 – was subjected to extensive lobbying by private healthcare interests.

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The Freedom of Information request made by a journalist – which marked the first time judges have considered the public right to see entries contained in a ministerial diary through the act – resulted in years of legal challenges after the Information Commissioner initially called for the diary’s release in 2013.

The government subsequently produced a “redacted” version, before launching various appeals to prevent further exposure.

Sir Alex Allan, a former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and among government witnesses who gave evidence said disclosure "would not assist the understanding of the processes of government and would be liable to mislead and misinform the public as to the efficiency and extent of the work of the minister".

Sir Terence Etherton, one of the three judges to rule against the government said the move was in the interests of “general value of openness” and “transparency in public administration”.

“In particular it seems to me clear that it remained relevant or potentially relevant to the department to know, as a matter of historical record, where Mr Lansley had been and with whom on particular occasions, should there be a political, journalistic or historical interest with the department in relation to those matters,” he said.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The government is considering the decision of the Court of Appeal and will respond in due course.”

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