Archive for the ‘freedom of information’ Category

During the course of my Ph. D. research I made a number of Freedom of Information Requests. In some I succeeded in getting the information I requested in other cases I did not. 
There was one matter which related to a record held in the National Archive which was marked closed and which the National Archive refused to open in which decision they were supported by the Information Commissioner. I decided to pursue the matter to a Tribunal hearing. I had no realistic prospect of success; I was interested, as a lawyer, to see how the process worked.
Of course, like everyone I have heard of the term “the establishment” but had no personal experience of it. Immediately we arrived in Court on the first day it was made clear to me what the expression meant. We were three, my legal executive, my barrister and myself. I lost count of the number of lawyers employed by those opposing us. They included a QC a further two barristers and I don’t know how many solicitors including the regular attendance of a solicitor from the firm which represents the Queen. The court was also attended by a number of senior civil servants. The witnesses they called included three Knights of the Realm. In summary matched against us there were nineteen people. Indeed there was hardly enough space to include all those attending. The case was originally scheduled for two days but in fact extended over three. During the course of the case there was discussion, albeit theoretical, about whether I was in breach of Parliamentary Privilege and could be imprisoned.
I have no knowledge of what the cost of the hearing was given the resources which the other side devoted to defending the case. Suffice to say we the tax payers paid the bills not the Duchy or Duke of Cornwall. After the case was completed I was told via a third party that someone in the Cabinet Office stated “I had no idea how much trouble I had caused” and my barrister was informed in the gentle round about way these things are done maybe he would think carefully before taking on a similar case.
I discovered from this experience there is an establishment which is peopled by anonymous men in grey suits. Furthermore even though my case was in many ways trivial and stood no realistic chance of success if you take on the establishment and specifically the Duke of Cornwall the establishment can and will deploy resources against you which an ordinary private citizen cannot hope to match. Finally I will admit the experience was intimidating and not one which I shall forget quickly.
John Kirkhopes new book – An Introduction to the Laws of the Duchy of Cornwall, The Scilly Isles and Devon – is now available in all good bookshops.
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Found on the Confirm or Deny blog. Click on image to read.
From the Celtic League: A popular Breton magazine is at the centre of a controversial debate about the freedom of the French press following the censorship of a front page story by the boss of a well known French newspaper, who owns a share in the publication. 
Read the rest here:  

The truth will out

Posted: October 24, 2012 in freedom of information
Freedom of information campaigner and journalist Heather Brooke says the decision by the government to veto the release of letters from Prince Charles is almost feudal and an affront to democracy. Brooke says that while the coalition government has made the workings of the state more transparent, a ‘ruling elite’ is still defending secrecy.

As many a Cornish campaigner will now know the Duchy of Cornwall is a very strange Janus faced beast.

It claims to be nothing but a private landed estate and so is exempt from the Freedom of Informations Act as is every other private company or organisation. However even the the quickest of research will soon show that this feudal relic has constitutional powers that enable it to intervene in the governmental decision making process. So, constitutional governmental powers that can effect our lives yet zero transparency. A totally unacceptable situation I hope you willl agree.

After e-mails sent to various bodies dealing with the freedom of information Lydia Medland of Access Info Europe very kindly responded with the following thoughts and questions that may be of interest to people trying to get a stright answer from our crooked Duchy.

Regarding FOI Requests

* Are there certain classes of information or documents that you are lacking? If so what specific information do you think should be made public? (expenses, budgets, reports, communication with public officials etc)

Regarding a possible campaign. If you want to call for certain things to be changed, I have the following questions, which would help you decide whether to approach the Duchy with your concerns directly or whether you want to hold a public campaign, or both.

* Are you more concerned about highlighting the what you feel are the current problems or do you want to campaign for more transparency?

If you want to campaign for transparency rather you could consider the following.

* Do you want the Duchy to be included under FOI? – how would you call for that?

* Do you want it to publish certain documents? How would you recommend which documents you would like to see made public pro-actively?

* Would you recommend that the Duchy adopt its own transparency policy similar to FOI? This could be a possibility if it appears too difficult in the short term for the institution to be included under FOI. I would recommend looking at the example of the World Bank who have adopted their own transparency policy which is effectively an access to information policy for the institution. Proposing this might well involve a public campaign and dialogue with the Duchy.

I understand that the preference is for all information to be published however it could be useful to identify specific classes of information of public interest and to call for commitments from the Duchy to respond to information requests from the public. See Annex A of the paper by Helen Darbishire on proactive publication for ideas of the types of information you might want to demand.

People working on the Duchy issue might like to contact the following organisations for further help and advice: Access Info Europe, Freedom of Information Advocates Network, Freedominfo.org, The Centre for the Freedom of Information, The Campaign for the Freedom of InformationThe Open Knowledge Foundation, Confirm or Deny, Your Right to Know. To learn more about the Freedom of Information Act in the UK try here, and to make requests for information via the internet use WhatDoTheyKnow.com.  

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From Republic – the campaigning for a democratic alternative to the monarchy: No more royal secrecy – write to your MP todayA very worthy campaign for all those interested in bringing the Duchy of Cornwall within the Freedom on Information Act.

Passing the Duchy on a Cornish Holiday.

Heather Brooke, a journalist, writer and author of ‘Your Right to Know’ has blogged about the Duchy of Cornwall and the freedom of information.

Heather writes:

this feudal constitutional body of governance claims that it is nothing more than a private landed estate and therefore exempt from the FOI act. He did point me to John Cross who is using the FOI act to obtain as much info as possible on the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall. You can find out about his work by visiting his blog Confirm or Deny.


For those interested in this subject, John Kirkhope, a Notary Public and Solicitor, has extensively researched the Duchy of Cornwall and is organising a series of public talks on the Laws of Cornwall.


I have one word of advice to all those seeking info on land ownership. Instead of using the Freedom of Information Act you might also try citing the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. This law is based on an EU directive and covers a wide range of information about the environment including land use and pollution. It also applies to any organisation conducting activities affecting the environment, not just public bodies (thus the Duchy of Cornwall IS covered under the EIR). For more info about using the EIR see the websites for the Information Commissioner, or the Scottish Information Commissioner. You should also look at the site of Rob Edwards who is an excellent journalist covering the environment and using both FOI and the EIR laws.