Royal Family granted new right of secrecy
Independent: Special exemptions to be written into Freedom of Information Act
While I can understand a politically neutral Monarchy should enjoy the same rights to privacy enjoyed by private individuals in relation to private family matters, the latest reform to FOI, which may have been influenced by Prince Charles’ desire to keep his letters to Ministers secret according to The Independent, I can see no justification for exemption in relation to the more public duties and affairs of the Monarch – particularly if they are funded through the public purse.
The Independent reports…
Ian Davidson, a former member of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), told The Independent: “I’m astonished that the Government should find time to seek to cover up royal finances. When I was on the PAC what we wanted was more disclosure not less.
“Every time we examined royal finances we found extravagance and indulgence as well as abuse of expenses by junior royals.
A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said that the change to the law was necessary because the Freedom of Information Act had failed to protect the constitutional position of the monarch and the heir to the throne. He explained that the sovereign has the right and duty to be consulted, to encourage and warn the government, and by extension, the heir to the throne had the constitutional right and duty to prepare himself for the role of King.
“This constitutional position relies on confidentiality, so that all such correspondence remains confidential,” he said.
But he said that change would also mean that correspondence not covered by the absolute exemption would be made public 10 years earlier than under the current disclosure rules.
The Palace’s position was backed by Professor Vernon Bogdanor, research professor at King’s College London.
He told The Independent: “The essence of constitutional monarchy is that the Queen and other members of the Royal Family remain politically neutral.
The right to privacy is to some extent protected by law under Human Rights legislation and The Data Protection Act. Nadine Dorries MP in her blog yesterday may well have overstepped the mark… but has she broken the law?
It’s been a tricksy day at the office today – best explained via the email to my members and statements to the press. I do understand that as an MP I am not really entitled to any privacy, however, I am concerned that any story is reported accurately and therefore, I have blogged the press statements issued today…..
Ms Dorries then goes on to reveal very private information about matters unconnected with her duties as an MP.
Andrew Sharpe, a partner at Charles Russell, writes in CRITique:our commercial law blog:
“…Having decided that the publication of a third party’s medical condition, if it is without explicit consent, is unlawful, raises the question of the consequences. We will deal with this in our next post….”
“In our previous post we reviewed in the context of yesterday’s personal statement to the press by Nadine Dorries MP, whether the publication of a person’s medical condition on a website could be unlawful under the Data Protection Act 1998 (the “DPA”). If our view that there has been a breach of the DPA is supported, what are the potential consequences for Nadine Dorries MP and what remedies are available to her partner’s wife (“W”), under the DPA?
Firstly, breach of a data protection principle is not of itself a criminal offence. Nothing Nadine Dorries has done appears to be within the scope of any of the criminal offences under the DPA. The disclosures she made in her blog are even within the scope of her notification properly made to the Information Commissioner’s Office (“notification” is the accurate term for the registration of a data controller’s processing purposes required under section 17 of the DPA). So any enforcement action taken by the Information Commissioner against the MP will not include prosecution at this stage.
Nadine Dorries could still be prosecuted if she fails to comply with an enforcement notice made by the Information Commissioner, but as the nature of any enforcement notice would be an order by the Information Commissioner not to breach the relevant data protection principle again, this is unlikely…..
…… This leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that W may have no direct DPA remedy herself, and must rely on the Information Commissioner to take action to give her some redress for the distress she may have suffered as a result of details of her alcoholism being published in breach of the DPA. However, the development of a right to privacy under cases such as Max Mosely v News of the World  EWHC 1777 (QB) or Naomi Campbell v Mirror Group Newspapers  UKHL 22 show that a privacy remedy made be available as a result of judicial intervention where no statutory remedy under the DPA is provided.”
An extraordinary situation and well worth examining by reading Andrew Sharpe’s blog post. Damned if you do…damned if you don’t? Was that Nadine Dorries MP’s view and position? An awkward one.