Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Criticism for government veto over release of Prince Charles' lobbying correspondence

The government's decision to veto the disclosure of Prince Charles' correspondence lobbying ministers was criticised by the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

The Campaign's director Maurice Frankel said:

"This is the first time the government has vetoed a decision of the Upper Tribunal under the FOI Act. The previous vetoes have applied either to the Information Commissioner or the First Tier Tribunal. 

The Upper Tribunal heard from constitutional experts on both sides of the argument. It set out detailed, cogent, clearly argued reasons for its decision over a 65 page ruling. If the Upper Tribunal is wrong, the government would be able to challenge and overturn its decision in the Court of Appeal. It is choosing not to go down this route but to veto the decision instead, which suggests it is not confident of its ability to win the argument in law. 

The Upper Tribunal concluded that the Prince's lobbying on behalf of various charitable causes did not fall under the constitutional convention designed to educate the heir to the throne to become monarch. He is trying to change government policy, not learn about it. 

The convention is subject to a strict rule of confidentiality: neither side reveals what has taken place. The Upper Tribunal found that Prince Charles had disclosed information about his lobbying activities for use in Jonathan Dimbleby's biography of him. It points out that if Prince Charles himself considered these exchanges to be subject to the convention, he would not have disclosed them. 

The decision to exercise the veto is judicially reviewable. If the Guardian newspaper goes for judicial review, the government will still have to justify its decision in court."

Full press release here.

Updated 17/10/12: The Guardian newspaper which made the FOI request in this case has confirmed it intends to judicially review the Attorney General's decision.

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