Government loses FoI appeal against disclosing ministerial diary to Reuters journalist

The Court of Appeal has ruled in favour or a Reuters journalist forcing the Government to release details of a ministerial diary.

The ruling comes six years after Simon Lewis first made a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Health asking it to reveal who former health secretary Andrew Lansley met while he was pondering controversial NHS reforms.

Lewis appealed to the Information Commissioner after the government only released a redacted version of Lansley’s ministerial diary.

On 26 March 2013 the Information Commisioner told the government to release most of the witheld information.

The government appeal against this decision and lost at the first tier tribunal on 14 March 2014. The upper tribunal rejected a further appeal, on 30 March, and now this further appeal has been rejected by the Court of Appeal.

It is the first time the courts have considered the public right to see entries contained in a ministerial diary under the Freedom of Information Act.

The diary covers the time Lansley was working on the Health and Social Care Act and allegedly subjected to extensive lobbying by private healthcare interests.

Sir Alex Allan, a former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, had been among Government witnesses who gave evidence that disclosure “would not assist the understanding of the processes of government and would be liable to mislead and misinform the public as to the efficiency and extent of the work of the minister”.

Dismissing the Government appeal, Sir Terence Etheron (Master of the Rolls) said the first tier triunal “actually identified 11 particular types of benefit from disclosure”, including “general value of openness” and “transparency in public administration”.

The judge also rejected the Government claim that the Department of Health did not hold the diary information “for the purposes of the FOIA”.

He said that while Lansley was a minister in the department the diary entries “were held by the department for itself even if they were also held – in the case of personal and constituency matters – for Mr Lansley as well”.

The judge added: “I cannot see that the termination of Mr Lansley’s ministerial position made any difference to that position.

“In particular it seems to me clear that it remained relevant or potentially relevant to the department to know, as a matter of historical record, where Mr Lansley had been and with whom on particular occasions, should there be a political, journalistic or historical interest raised with the department in relation to those matters.”

Read the Court of Appeal ruling in full.

Picture: Andrew Lansley, credit – Reuters

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