A Channel Islands news website has won a seven-month battle to reveal the contract offered to the Jersey government’s chief executive after his office argued that publishing it would cause him “distress”.
The Bailiwick Express filed a Freedom of Information request in April asking to see the employment contract offered to Charlie Parker, who it reports is paid £250,000 for his role, which he took up in January.
The paper’s request was denied by the States of Jersey’s Chief Minister’s Department, which disclosed some of the information requested 75 days later, but kept details of Parker’s (pictured) contract under seal.
Under UK FoI law, public bodies must respond within 20 working days of a request for information.
After losing an appeal to lift the seal on the contract, the Bailiwick Express took its case to the Jersey Information Commissioner, arguing that details of the chief executive’s agreement were in the public interest.
In its submission to the Jersey ICO, the Jersey government said disclosure would cause Parker “distress due to media coverage and negative public image” and expose him to “high potential for harassment… in a small public sphere”.
It also said that revealing the contract details could lead to Parker leaving his post and even “hamper any future efforts to replace him”.
But, Information Commissioner Jay Fedorak ruled last Wednesday that the contract must be disclosed by 19 December, adding that the case was the “most important” one to come through his office.
In his ruling, Fedorak said: “I find that there is a public interest in the disclosure of this information, as it relates to the expenditure of public funds and to a matter of recent public discussion concerning a senior public official.
He said the Jersey government had “not presented any evidence to suggest that the chief executive has suffered distress by the release of this information or that he has been subject to harassment (rather than public discussion).”
He also criticised the authority’s failure to respond to the Bailiwick Express FoI request within the statutory time limit of 20 working days.
The Jersey government said it regretted the failure but pinned the error on staff absences. The Commissioner said this was not a “legitimate justification” for extending the deadline.
Asked about the significance of the ruling for journalists in Jersey, editor James Filleul said: “This decision sets a very important precedent indeed for journalists when they are challenging a refusal to publish information on the basis of privacy.
“It accepts that decision can be finely balanced, but it gives very useful guidance as to the circumstances when the public interest trumps any right to privacy.
“In this case, the states were working to a definition of what was personal, and so should be kept private, which was far too broad, and so they withheld the contract in its entirety.
“The commissioner has said that’s wrong, and his view could set the context for future FoI battles.”
The file is set to be released with two paragraphs of a “private nature” and the chief executive’s address blacked out due to privacy considerations.
Bailiwick Express editor Filleul told Press Gazette that the chief executive’s office has yet to publish the contract details.
The Bailiwick Express news website has covered Jersey and Guernsey since it was launched in January 2014.