Continued from Part I, published here.
There is also the issue of ‘in whose interests is it to have non-disclosure’?
Would politicians, especially those in the Crown Dependencies, have an interest in non-disclosure?
It is a fact that since this issue came up all three jurisdictions and the UK have had by-elections and elections.
Would more transparency have affected the electoral prospects of some politicians?
Amber Rudd only scraped back into her seat without the transparency.
Without the transparency the top level political teams of all three Crown Dependencies have changed.
Would transparency have lost a few of them their seats?
No one knows because such transparency was denied.
There is also the point that transparency can enhance the reputation of a government with its citizens, whereas lack of transparency can lead citizens to feel that their government is untrustworthy and remote from them.
The three Crown Dependencies had been asked their own Freedom of Information questions on this subject.
Jersey had denied that any communications records existed, which turned out to be untrue.
Guernsey gave some disclosure as did the Isle of Man. Guernsey had said it was up to the UK government what communications with the Crown Dependencies it released, so did not specifically object to this release of information. However, my point was that neither the government Minister who authorised the non-disclosure, nor the Information Commissioner, checked with anyone in the Crown Dependencies on this specific information and whether they objected to the disclosure or not (however, I would argue that even if they did argue for non-disclosure, their own interests would not necessarily be a reason for such non-disclosure).
I also pointed out the recent chaos in the Home Office, with changes of Home Secretary (three in the period in question and more for junior ministers), and that the decision to continue to withhold information should have been taken by the current Home Secretary. Indeed it was not clear who at the Home Office was actually responsible for this continued non-disclosure.
Then there is the issue of the actual information not disclosed
I pointed out that I was at an extreme disadvantage not being able to see this non-disclosed information. The legal counsel for the Home Office had seen all this and was able to argue his case on the basis of being fully informed.
Human rights issue?
I was kept out of the closed Hearing on this particular section, which I believe was against my human rights to a fair hearing.
I had argued pre-hearing, when this written ruling was made, that I was happy to sign a commitment that if unsuccessful, I would not reveal the contents of the non-disclosed material. I pointed out that when I had been on the Tax authority in Guernsey I had been trusted sufficiently to be an Administrator of Oaths. I said that I was very disadvantaged not being able to argue for disclosure without sight of this non-disclosed documentation, which the other parties’ Barrister had.
I should also point out that close to the Hearing date, the Home Office asked to be a party to the proceedings and were given permission to be able to do so. At this stage, the Information Commissioner appeared to take a bit of a back seat to the extent that she or they decided to have no representation at the Tribunal hearing. Even though, the action is Webber v the ICO.
So I and the Tribunal had the disadvantage of not being able to address any points to the Information Commissioner. I do not even know the name of the Information Commissioner concerned, so was not able to check on her, to ensure I was happy with her impartiality.
The Crown Dependencies’ decisions
To be fair to all concerned, I have in the last few months received some helpful further responses from the Guernsey and Isle of Man governments. However, all three Crown Dependencies’ governments had decided not to take any Syrian refugees and instead had pledged for Overseas Aid of such refugees in the countries bordering Syria. They are clearly not so much on the defensive as they were.
The Jersey Chief Minister said they would not be taking refugees on 1st December 2015, the Guernsey Chief Minister said they would not either on 6th February 2016 (just a couple of months before their General Election ), and the Isle of Man new Chief Minister said no, too, on 18th February 2017.
I am awaiting further replies from all three, but the case is against the Home Office, who are refusing to give the disclosure requested.
However, the case does raise serious questions which need to be asked of the three individual Crown Dependencies’ governments about their FOI laws and responses.
One of my major concerns on this has been an attempt to abuse the spirit and intentions of the FOI laws to avoid disclosure of public interest information.
Governments Syrian Refugee policy is a falsehood and a failure
Being an analytical political commentator, I have made FOI requests in a number of government policy areas.
On the subject of Syrian refugees, I have for some time been concerned about the sense and logic of the government’s Syrian refugee programme. I have a number of friends and contacts in Syria, so am pretty well acquainted with the true situation there.
It is clear from the many FOI’s I have sent to both the UK government and local authorities, that there has not been full truthfulness and transparency on this policy. There has been huge misinformation about the costs and resources and the security checking.
What is clear is that those accepted here do not reflect the ethnic/religious background of Syrian people. The recent decision by the UK government to take the Islamist “white helmets” into the UK only confirms that a large proportion of refugees are in fact Islamist fundamentalists rather than average Syrians.
Very relevant is the fact that the Syrian government is now asking all refugees to return home and have commenced a successful reconciliation programme. Refugees in the region are returning to their homes every day. It seems that the UK government’s persistent pursuing of an out of date policy does need to be questioned- and that means access to information.
The need for a presumption of disclosure
However, this non-disclosure by the Home Office should not be looked at in respect of the specific issue, because that is not the essential point.
The point is, there should always be a presumption of disclosure on all issues unless there is an issue of real national security interest, rather than perceived national/public interest.
I finally add that if anyone wants to help on this in any way, financially, legally or generally, on this issue, I hope they will contact me.