The Crown Prosecution Service has been told it should disclose information it holds about a 1998 race-hate trial involving British National Party leader Nick Griffin, a tribunal has found.
In its decision the Information Tribunal emphasised the fact that the request was made under the Freedom of Information Act by Guardian investigative journalist Ian Cobain.
It also stressed that restrictions on disclosure which were apparently imposed by the FOIA had to be read in the light of decisions by the European Court of Human Rights over the right to freedom of expression – the right to impart and receive information – under Article 10 of the Convention on Human Rights.
The Tribunal’s decision suggests that journalists seeking information might find it worthwhile making clear who they are when they first make a request under the FOIA.
Cobain had asked the CPS for information about Griffin’s trial at Harrow Crown Court in 1998, the year before he became leader of the BNP.
At the trial Griffin was convicted, fined and given a suspended jail sentence, while an associate, Paul Ballard, who had pleaded guilty, received a shorter suspended sentence.
In 2009, Cobain started researching the case. The court said it no longer held any records about the trial and he made a FOIA request to the CPS for information it held.
The CPS said the material was covered by exemptions under the Act
The Information Commissioner’s Office upheld the CPS’s refusal to disclose the material and Cobain appealed to the First Tier Tribunal.
The Tribunal said it seemed “very odd that in an open society there could be any lawful obstacle to any member of the public obtaining access, for example, to the indictment on which Mr Griffin was convicted, the records of interviews, which he offered for sale before the trial or the witness statement of a French associate who gave ‘expert evidence’ in support of the political defence which Mr Griffin chose to mount”.
It was clear that a significant amount of material held by the CPS was not Griffin’s personal data.
The Tribunal said: “We do not doubt, nor was the point seriously contested, that disclosure is necessary for a legitimate investigative purpose of journalism. Given his position and his own attitude to such publicity, we find no prejudice to Mr Griffin`s rights and freedoms or legitimate interests.”
Some sensitive personal data, and some personal data within the scope of the request had already been made public as a result of steps taken by Griffin himself.
“Disclosure of the sensitive data would be ‘in connection with the commission of an unlawful act (hence the conviction), seriously improper conduct and arguably Mr Griffin`s unfitness for political office,” the tribunal said.
“It would be for the purpose of journalism, Mr Cobain`s occupation, and would be intended for publication in his newspaper and possibly thereafter, in a book.
“Given the issues involved, namely racial and/or religious hatred and the right to express even extreme views, we find that disclosure would be in the substantial public interest.”