Committee’s refusal to provide advice given to Tony Blair about post-office employment was unlawful

 

The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments is a public body that provides advice to former ministers, senior civil servants, and other Crown servants for advice on whether it would be appropriate for the person concerned to take a particular job in the private sector and, if so, on what conditions.  The Committee provided such advice to Tony Blair prior to his leaving office.  Edward Malnick, an investigative journalist at the Telegraph, made a Freedom of Information Act 2000 request to the Committee for the provision of the advice given to Tony Blair.  The Committee refused to provide such reasons.

 

In a judgment dated 3 November 2016, the First-tier Tribunal found this refusal to be unlawful for two reasons.  First, the Committee had failed to have regard to its own view (expressed by its Chairs in evidence to Parliamentary Committees) that it depends upon the media to police Ministers’ compliance with the Committee.  As a result, it was not “reasonable” in public law terms.  Secondly, the “strong public interest” in knowing about the exchanges between the Committee and Tony Blair was such that, if the Committee refused to disclose that information, it was effectively operating an absolute exemption under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. 

 

The Tribunal’s decision is a welcome emphasis of the importance of investigative journalists in holding public figures to account.  It also represents a rare example of the Tribunal finding a public body to have acted unreasonably under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.  It is available here.

 

Adrian Waterman QC and Jude Bunting acted for Edward Malnick, instructed by Oliver Murphy of Reynolds, Porter, Chamberlain.

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