Share

Commission wins FoI exemption over Mariam Appeal, but could face fresh legal challenge

Commission wins FoI exemption over Mariam Appeal, but could face fresh legal challenge
News

Commission wins FoI exemption over Mariam Appeal, but could face fresh legal challenge

Governance | David Ainsworth | 26 Mar 2014

The Charity Commission does not have a duty to disclose information about completed inquiries under the Freedom of Information Act the Supreme Court has ruled.

But it could face a new challenge requiring it to reveal the same information under the common law.

The Supreme Court judgment, released today, deals with an appeal by Times journalist Dominic Kennedy, who in 2007 asked the regulator for information gathered in three investigations into the Mariam Appeal, set up by Respect MP George Galloway to campaign against sanctions on Iraq.

The Commission refused, saying the Freedom of Information Act provided an absolute exemption from disclosing information gathered in the course of an inquiry. Kennedy appealed, argued the exemption did not apply once an inquiry was concluded.

The Supreme Court said today the Commission did not have to disclose the information under freedom of information rules.

The judgment included dissenting opinions from two of the seven judges, who said they would have allowed Kennedy access to the information.

The judgment also said the Charity Commission has the power to disclose information to the public concerning inquiries on which it has published reports under general common law duties of “openness and transparency”, and that any refusal to disclose under these duties could be subject to judicial review.

Common law right to information

Rupert Earle, a partner at Bates Wells Braithwaite, the specialist charity law firm, who acted for Kennedy, said the judgment has “effectively created a common law right to information, at least in respect of those exercising quasi-judicial functions, which is largely equivalent to the Freedom of Information Act, and which neither the Commission, nor Mr Kennedy, nor the lower courts knew previously existed”.

He said under this new right, the Commission has only a qualified right to withhold information, rather than an absolute one.

“Dominic can submit a new request, and the Commission will have to consider it again,” he said. “I would imagine he will almost certainly do so.

This time, he said, the Commission must conduct a balancing exercise, judging the public interest of disclosure against "countervailing arguments that may be advanced" which could include the right to protect information disclosed in confidence and the right to conduct future inquiries without prejudice.

“If we are not satisfied with the Commission’s response, we can then seek a judicial review under the common law,” he said.

Kenneth Dibble, chief legal adviser and head of legal services at the Charity Commission, said in a statement following the judgment that any right to information had to be balanced against the need to conduct effective inquiries.

“That is why the exemption upheld by today’s judgment is so important,” he said. “Ultimately, this will help us uphold public trust and confidence in charities.”

Comments

[Cancel] | Reply to:

Close »

Community Standards

The civilsociety.co.uk community and comments board is intended as a platform for informed and civilised debate.

We hope to encourage a broad range of views, however, there are standards that we expect commentators to uphold. We reserve the right to delete or amend any comments that do not adhere to these standards.

We welcome:

  • Robust but respectful debate
  • Strongly held opinions
  • Intelligent relevant discussion
  • The sharing of relevant experiences
  • New participants

We will not publish:

  • Rude, threatening, offensive, obscene or abusive language, or links to such material
  • Links to commercial organisations or spam postings. The comments board is not an advertising platform
  • The posting of contact details for yourself or others
  • Comments intended for malicious purpose or mindless abuse
  • Comments purporting to be from another person or organisation under false pretences
  • Gratuitous criticism, commentary or self-promotion
  • Any material which breaches copyright or privacy laws, or could be considered libellous
  • The use of the comments board for the pursuit or extension of personal disputes

Be aware:

  • Views expressed on the comments board are left at users’ discretion and are in no way views held or supported by Civil Society Media
  • Comments left by others may not be accurate, do not rely on them as fact
  • You may be misunderstood - sarcasm and humour can easily be taken out of context, try to be clear

Please:

  • Enjoy the opportunity to express your opinion and respect the right of others to express theirs
  • Confine your remarks to issues rather than personalities

Together we can keep our community a polite, respectful and intelligent platform for discussion.

Free eNews

VSO's income increased by £11.6m in 2013/14

30 Jul 2014

Voluntary Services Overseas saw its income increase by 20 per cent to £68.7m in 2013/14, according to...

Syria and Haiyan appeals boost Oxfam income by 6 per cent

30 Jul 2014

Oxfam’s total income rose by more than £21m to £389m in the year to March 2014, according to its annual...

Man admits stealing £300,000 from collections for Help for Heroes

29 Jul 2014

A man has admitted pocketing £300,000 donated by members of the public who believed it would go to Help...

Syria and Haiyan appeals boost Oxfam income by 6 per cent

30 Jul 2014

Oxfam’s total income rose by more than £21m to £389m in the year to March 2014, according to its annual...

PTA-UK: Big Society Network chief was confident of funding

28 Jul 2014

PTA-UK has revealed that it turned down an invitation from Big Society Network to be a partner in its...

FRSB rejects complaint against the RSPB

25 Jul 2014

The Fundraising Standards Board has thrown out a complaint that the RSPB’s Abernethy Forest appeal made...

Online donations forms are too long and cost charities donations, finds report

28 Jul 2014

One third of leading charity websites require potential donors to complete more than 20 actions before...

Greenpeace video removed from YouTube following copyright claim

14 Jul 2014

A campaign video by Greenpeace against Lego’s relationship with Shell has been subject to a copyright...

Oxfam advert removed after appearing before extremist videos

10 Jul 2014

Oxfam has removed one of its adverts from YouTube after it was shown on channels showing content from...

Join the discussion

Twitter
 
Training

Attending our one day courses is a highly effective way of ensuring new and existing trustees fully understand their role, responsibilities and liabilities.

>> Find out more <<