Posts Tagged ‘Information Tribunal’

From 2011: Information Tribunal Casts Doubt on Suitability of Infrormation Commissioner after BCCI Cover-Up

April 8, 2014

In their issue for the 30th September-13th October 2011, Private Eye also had an article on the questions raised about the performance of the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, after he sided with the government in refusing to disclose information about some of the people involved in the BCCI scandal. That was the bank, which was at the centre of a massive web of corruption and whose collapse in the 1980s caused a huge scandal. It was so corrupt, that it was at one point nicknamed The Bank of Crooks and Conmen International. The articles runs:

Freedom of Information

FoI-led Again

A recent decision by the Information Tribunal, which forced the Treasury to hand over previously concealed details of a 20-year-old report into the BCCI banking scandal, code-named Sandstorm, raises serious questions over whether the current Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, is the man for the job.

Two years ago he had to rule on the Treasury’s non-disclosure of material including the names of people running the fraudulent bank and organisations propping it up. Its stance was based largely on the unlikely grounds that divulging the names would harm international relations or that the names constituted personal data (which can still be disclosed in the public interest).

Among the names concealed as “personal data” were BCCI founder Agha Asan Abedi, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Royal Bank of Scotland and an entire country in the government of Cameroon. Amazingly graham agreed completely with the Sir Humphreys (who also happen to hold his purse strings). But when lefty accountant Professor Prem Sikka from Essex university challenged his decision and took it to the Information Tribunal, it was dismissed out of hand.

“we were surprised to see that the Treasury sought to extend the protection of the data protection principles,” said the tribunal judges, “to information about some individuals who exercised ultimate control over the whole of BCCI’s operations and were the architects of a group-wide programme of fraud and concealment.”

When it came to countries and companies, the Treasury had made the most basic error of treating their names as “personal”. The judges must have been even more surprised to find that an Information Commissioner who is supposed to understand the subject endorse this., On the concealment of Abedi’s name, they concluded with some understatement: “the legitimate interest of the public …justifies disclosure of the identity of the man in overall charge …”

Mike and a number of other bloggers have had their attempts to obtain the true figures of the numbers of people, who have died after being assessed as fit for work under the Freedom of Information Act, turned down. Mike himself was told by the Information Commissioner that his request was ‘vexatious’ by the Information Commissioner after he challenged the decision. This case, unfortunately, shows that Mike and the others are not alone in having their requests turned down under what may be considered highly questionable grounds. Mike’s case is due to go before the Information Tribunal, and I hope they will decide in favour of Mike and the other people wishing to obtain the information. THi

Vox Political Goes to Tribunal for Freedom of Information 23rd April

March 29, 2014

Confrontation: Let's hope the FoI tribunal ends as well for Vox Political as his encounter with the dragon did for St George. [Image: bradfordschools.net]

Yesterday, Mike announced that he finally had a date for the tribunal, which will adjudicate on his appeal against the decision of the DWP and the Information Commissioner to refuse to release to him the figures for the people who died whilst claiming ESA or Incapacity Benefit in 2012. Mikes states that

The aim is to find out how many people died while going through the claim process, which is extremely stressful for people who are – by definition – ill or disabled; and also to find out how many have died after being put in the work-related activity group of Employment and Support Allowance claimants, as these are people who should be well enough to work within a year of their claim starting.

The great Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov, made a ringing declaration of the immense importance of freedom of information, as well as speech, for a truly democratic society. I’ve already blogged on this on Sunday, but given the immense importance of this issue, Sakharov’s words still bear repeating.

Intellectual freedom is essential to human society – freedom to obtain and distribute information, freedom for open-minded and unfearing debate, and freedom from pressure by officialdom and prejudices. Such as trinity of freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of people by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demogogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorship. Freedom of thought is the only guarantee of the feasibility of a scientific democratic approach to politics, economy and culture.

But freedom of thought is under a triple threat in modern society – from the deliberate opium of mass culture, from cowardly, egotistic, and philistine ideologies, and from the ossified dogmatism of a bureaucratic oligarchy and its favourite weapon, ideological censorship. Therefore, freedom of thought requires the defence of all thinking and honest people. This is a mission not only for the intelligentsia but for all strata of society, particularly its most active and organized stratum, the working class. The world-wide dangers of war, famine, cults of personality, and bureaucracy – these are perils for all mankind.

He then goes to state that a true Freedom of Information law must allow for the active encouragement of examination and investigation:

A law on press and information must be drafted, widely discussed, and adopted, with the aim not only of ending irresponsible and irrational censorship, but also of encouraging self-study in our society, fearless discussion, and the search for truth. The law must provide for the material resources of freedom of thought.

E. Salisbury, ed., Sakharov Speaks (New York: Knopf 1974), in Robert V. Daniels, A Documentary History of Communism Vol 1. Communism in Russia (London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd. 1985), 372,373.

Sakharov was writing in the very repressive conditions of the former Soviet Union. Nevertheless, his description of the immense importance of freedom of thought and information is relevant everywhere. I hope that the Tribunal similarly believes in the absolute importance of freedom of information, and upholds Mike’s appeal.