Freedom of information

Posted: 27th January 2017

Freedom of InformationThe bad old days of blanket official secrecy are happily long gone and, with the right legal advice, you can get hold of all the information you need. In one striking case, a campaigner was granted access to minutes of the Cabinet Office committee charged with advising the Queen with regard to honours, decorations and medals.

The chairman of a campaign group engaged in seeking to persuade the Government that a new National Defence Medal (NDM) should be created to honour veterans of the armed forces who had not participated in a particular conflict but who had stood ready to do so. 

The matter was placed before the Honours and Decorations Committee of the Cabinet Office. It was not persuaded that there was currently a strong enough case for the creation of an NDM, but that the issue might usefully be reconsidered in the future. In the circumstances, the man sought disclosure of the minutes of the relevant committee meeting under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

In resisting disclosure, the Cabinet Office submitted that the minutes fell within an exception under the Act in that they related to the conferring by the Crown of an honour or dignity. In rejecting that argument, however, the Information Rights Tribunal found that the exception applied only to existing decorations, not to proposed new ones, and was therefore not engaged. It could also not be said that the information sought related to the formulation or development of government policy. In the circumstances, the Cabinet Office was directed to disclose those parts of the minutes that related to the proposed NDM.