David Cameron and Nick Clegg's texts could be disclosed under FOI

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Offline the leveller

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David Cameron and Nick Clegg's texts could be disclosed under FOI
« on: September 30, 2012, 11:47:38 AM »
David Cameron and Nick Clegg's texts could be disclosed under FOI
Text messages sent by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and other senior members of the Government could be released under Freedom of Information laws.
Education secretary Michael Gove
 By Christopher Hope, Senior Political Correspondent
10:00PM BST 28 Sep 2012
Guidance to be published by the Cabinet Office in the next few weeks is expected to confirm that ?back channels? used by ministers and advisers to communicate with each other are not exempt from FOI legislation.

The new advice raises the prospect of private communications between the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, and other ministers, being made public for the first time.

Earlier this year, Mr Cameron was embarrassed when his text messages to former tabloid editor Rebekah Brooks were disclosed at the Leveson inquiry.

In one instance Mrs Brooks emailed Mr Cameron saying how she was looking forward to private discussions at a ?country supper?. On another she texted after a speech Mr Cameron had given to a party conference saying: ?We?re in this together.?

The news has emerged after Education secretary Michael Gove said he would stop fighting an FOI request to release emails sent from his wife?s email account under the name Mrs Blurt

Previously ministers and their advisers had considered that the FOI Act only to apply to messages sent through a departmental email address.

However The Daily Telegraph understands that the guidance will make clear that messages sent over private email accounts or text message will now be included.

One FOI expert said that the ruling means ?you can?t escape scrutiny of FOI by using some back channel like your wife?s email or a text message?.

However he cautioned that existing exemptions under FOI covering official documents ? such as policy advice from officials ? will apply to any material that is requested.

Successful requests will have to prove that the content of the messages relates to government business rather than political gossip or party business.

The guidance will be based on a ruling set out by the information commissioner in December last year.

Last night Maurice Frankel, from the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said: ?It has been rehearsed since 2000 ? if it involves Government business than it is subject to the FOI Act.

"The only surprise is that ministers attempted this interpretation at all.?

The news comes after Mr Gove stopped fighting attempts using FOI legislation by the Financial Times to disclose emails sent from his wife?s private email account.

The Information Commissioner earlier this year ruled that an email sent by Mr Gove to his staff from his wife?s email account, under the name ?Mrs Blurt?, was official business and information from it must therefore be disclosed.

The Commissioner said that the DfE?s stance not to disclose the email would ?create a blanket exemption [from the FoI Act] for communications between ministers and special advisers.?

Mr Gove?s advisers ? who had always said that the emails contained party political information, not Government business - had been planning to appeal the ruling.

However the request was withdrawn in a letter sent to the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham on Friday, Claire Johnston, a senior lawyer at the DfE on Friday.

Ms Johnston said that the new guidance ?makes clear that non-government information which amounts to constituency or political business is not considered to be held by departments for the purposes of FOIA?

?In the circumstances the department can be no longer justify the expenditure of further resources on the current appeal to the tribunal.?

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner?s Office said: ?The Information Commissioner welcomes the withdrawal of the DfE?s appeal.

?The Commissioner?s decision was that the email was within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act because the contents amounted to Departmental business. That decision was consistent with guidance he issued in December 2011.?

A DfE spokesman said: ?The guidance will make clear that whether or not information is subject to FOIA depends on the nature of the information and not the format in which it is held.

?Government information held on private email accounts is within scope of FOIA.

?Non government information which amounts to constituency or political business is not considered to be held by departments for the purposes of the Act.?

« Last Edit: September 30, 2012, 12:12:53 PM by the leveller »


Offline the leveller

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Re: David Cameron and Nick Clegg's texts could be disclosed under FOI
« Reply #1 on: September 30, 2012, 12:03:19 PM »
One of the comments posted ,read all the comments on the newspaper website and click to like ============================
Yesterday 08:53 AM

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