Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Top civil servant to fight release of Iraq war records

The Times
November 24 2008
Sam Coates, Chief Political Correspondent
Sir Gus O’Donnell, the head of the Civil Service, will lead the Government’s last-ditch attempt to block the release of minutes of Cabinet meetings in the run-up to the war in Iraq, The Times has learnt.

No 10 has been ordered by Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, to release copies of Cabinet minutes and records relating to meetings held between March 7 and 17, 2003.

Details of the meetings, during which the Attorney-General’s legal advice on the war was discussed, could reveal the positions of individual Cabinet ministers and the strength of internal opposition before the March 20 invasion.

The Cabinet Office is fighting the decision because it believes that a vital principle of government is at stake – the right to have private discussions. Ministers argue that releasing the documents could end hundreds of years of confidential Cabinet discussions and undermine collective Cabinet responsibility, where ministers must defend policies in public that they may not agree with in private.

...To prevent the disclosure, the Government is relying on two provisions in the freedom of information legislation that should block the release of documents relating to “formulation of government policy” or “ministerial communications”.

However, when the legislation was drawn up by Jack Straw in 2000, he decided that this ban could be overridden if the public interest arguments were strong enough .
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