Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Legal advice and war in Iraq - what role for FOI?

In the context of FOI, not much has been written about the release of the Iraq war legal advice, published by Downing Street on the 28th April. Many FoI requests had been submitted for the legal advice as soon as the Act came into force on the 1st January. Many journalists had called the issue "totemic" - what stance would the Government and Information Commissioner take? . The government turned down the requests (see the details). The requests went back to internal appeal and following no change in reponse the matter was referred to the Information Commissioner. In the end the force of leaks pushed the government to act and the release the documents full documents . The release did not acknowledge FoI and the resulting media coverage made little reference to FoI. I've done some searching using a full text database on a time span from the 28th April to date - there have been 217 national newspaper articles mentioning the words "legal AND advice AND war AND iraq" but only 2 articles mention these terms with the words "freedom of information act".

What does the episode do for FoI and key issues in Central Government? Is FoI having an impact on key issues - or is the secretive culture still in place? Does the way to get information released on controversial areas still rely on leaks and media pressure? Also -why the media has made so little of the fact their FoI requests were never met?


Anonymous said...

And why, so far as I can recall, was so little fuss made about the 'leaks'. Or was this a 'managed' leak to give the government an excuse to release the advice in the face of mounting pressure without appearing to climb down

Perry Holmes said...

And has the Information Commissioner completed his investigation yet or shelved it now that the information has effectively been disclosed? If he does complete his investigation it could perhaps add some credibility to the argument that FOI had a role to play in the eventual disclosure.

Anonymous said...

On the day that the advice was finally published (28 April), I lodged a request to know why they'd changed their mind. I've had no reply!