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Saturday, 7 April 2012

Game of Risk anyone?

Now not many of us will have come across The Information Tribunal. What is it? Well it is exactly what the name suggests. It is the forum for dealing with disputes arising out of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). So if a public body refuses a request for information, or to disclose a document, the matter can be taken to the Tribunal.

Most of us have come across the controversial NHS Bill, the comprehensive overhaul of the National Health Service that seems to be universally opposed by the medical profession. As part of those plans, a risk register was drafted. This document set out the dangers of the reforms and, not surprisingly, opponents of the bill want to see it. An opposition MP requested disclosure under FOI. The government, which is clearly less than enthusiastic about disclosing the risks, refused on the ground that the register was part of ‘policy and development’ and therefore exempt. They argue that disclosure might cause civil servants to less frank about pointing out possible pitfalls.

As citizens shouldn’t such risks be just what we want to know?

In a judgment published last week the Tribunal ordered disclosure on the ground that there was a very high public interest in knowing what the risks are.

This decision seems to confirm the whole point of FOI. If we are to be a truly open democracy then we should be entitled to see key documents especially those which demonstrates the risks of what our elected representatives are doing in our name.

The Department of Health do have a right to appeal but it is to be hoped that any higher tribunal takes a similarly sensible view.

Fighting for you rights

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