Councils can't hide accounts

Dominic Ponsford’s excellent piece about my application for judicial
review in the High Court (16 September) should provide food for thought
for any local authority which considers adopting a
less-than-enthusiastic stance regarding the public’s rights (S.15 of
the Audit Commission Act)n to inspect the financial books.

Editors
and journalists, please note that Justice Leveson gave short shrift to
the council’s attempts to justify keeping details of certain payments
to councillors, contractors and consultants under wraps, by recourse to
the Data Protection Act.

But one point in Dominic’s piece does need clarifying. He said that I “failed in (my) bid to change the law”.

In fact. The law cannot be changed through a judicial review decision.

Only Parliament can change the law.

The purpose of a judicial review is to enable a judge to assess a dispute and explain the law to both parties.

For
that reason, last week’s hearing is only binding on Lincolnshire County
Council and myself, not on every local authority in the country.

But
Justice Leveson’s conclusions should assist any editor, publisher or
freelance journalist who encounters similar problems in viewing council
accounts in the future. They would need to make separate applications
in the courts, as I did last week, and as HTV West did with Bristol
City Council in June 2004 (reported in Press Gazette at the time).

Richard Orange Orchard News Bureau Lincoln

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