Category: Freedom of Information


Freedom of information and unpublished data from a randomised controlled trial on ME/CFS

12 June 2013 by David Hart QC

zCCQueen Mary University of London v the Information Commissioner (1) and Robert Courtney (2) First Tier Tribunal EA/2012/0229 read judgment

Rosalind English has recently posted here on incomplete academic work in the climate change field. This appeal is closely related, in that it concerns a university’s claim to hold on to data from a publicly-funded randomised controlled trial pending peer-reviewed publication.

Between 2005 and 2010 Queen Mary ran a trial into the efficacy and safety of the current treatments for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalopathy, namely Adaptive Pacing Therapy , Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Graded Exercise Therapy. £5m of public money was spent, and the perceived benefits (and some of the detriments) were written up into a major article published in the Lancet in March 2011. The upshot, said this article, was that CBT and GET could be safely added to current medical care with a moderate improvement in outcomes. This recommendation has already fed into an interim review of the NICE guidelines on CFS/ME.

However, the data on deterioration within the trial had not been fully published. You could not see how many patients deteriorated in response to each therapy, just the net deterioration over the whole cohort. Our appellant, Mr Courtney, is evidently a bit sceptical about the results of this trial. As he pointed out, the deterioration data had a 20 point difference, whereas the improvement had only to be modest – an 8 point difference. And, he said, how can patients sensibly form a view on treatment without knowing how much deterioration that specific treatment might cause?

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The Chagossian Wikileaks cable judgment, fishing rights and a dose of EU law

11 June 2013 by David Hart QC

330px-ChagosmapBancoult v. Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Divisional Court, Richards LJ and Mitting J, 11 June 2013 read judgment

The Divisional Court has now dismissed  the claim by Mr Bancoult on behalf of the Chagossian islanders. He had challenged the designation of the waters around the islands as a “no take” Marine Protected Area, i.e. one which could not be fished. 

Mr Bancoult said that the decision was flawed (i) by having an improper purpose (it would put paid to the Chagossians’ claims for resettlement); (ii) by inadequate consultation and (iii) by amounting to a breach of an EU obligation to promote the economic and social development of the islands. The Court ruled against all these claims.

The case has, to say the least, quite a back-story. It started with the Chagossians’ eviction from their islands in the Indian Ocean in the late 1960s and early 1970s,  on which I have posted here, here, and, in Strasbourg, here. After a judgment from the courts in 2000, the Foreign Office accepted that the original law underlying their departure was unlawful, and agreed to investigate their possible resettlement on some of their islands.

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Incomplete information and the right to know: Climategate’s long tail

10 June 2013 by Rosalind English

ImageVaultHandler.aspxStephen McIntyre v Information Commissioner (Environmental Information Regulations 2004) [2013] UKFTT 156 (17 May 2013) – read judgment and [2013] UKFTT 51 (7 May 2013) read judgment

These are the latest in a series of  freedom of information requests for disclosure of material from the UEA’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU).  These requests arose following the ‘climategate’ affair where hacked university emails suggested that individuals within CRU might have attempted to abuse the process of peer review to prevent publication of opposing research papers and evidence. Hence the sensitivity of the data to both requester and CRU, and the passions engendered on these appeals.

Both cases turned on whether disclosure could be denied on the basis of the public interest exception to the default rule that information should be disclosed, in other words the chilling effect on sharing ideas and unpublished research, and the potential distortion of public debate by the disclosure of incomplete material. 
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Who “holds” the working papers of the Climategate inquiry?

7 May 2013 by David Hart QC

emailgate_mockup_k_SMLHolland v. Information Commissioner & University of East Anglia, First Tier Tribunal, 29 April 2013  – read judgment

In 2009 someone hacked into e-mails belonging to the Climate Research Unit at UEA and leaked them widely. Climate change sceptics whooped with delight because they thought that the e-mails showed attempts to suppress or gerrymander climate data (see e.g. this example from James Delingpole with some of the ticklish e-mails, and for more background, less tendentiously put, my post on an earlier UEA case). And the CRU data was important; it had made its way into the highly influential IPCC reports.

UEA understandably thought that something needed doing in response to the leaks, and commissioned an inquiry, the Independent Climate Change E-mail Review. ICCER reported in 2010: see here for the report and here for a short summary. ICCER  concluded that there had not been any systematic manipulation of data, though there had been a lack of openness by CRU in dealing with requests for information. 

This recent decision concerns a campaigner’s efforts to get copies of the working papers of the Review. The First Tier Tribunal (as the Information Commissioner before it) refused to order UEA to produce them.  UEA did not “hold” them, ICCER did. And ICCER was not a public authority capable of being ordered to produce them.

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Chagossians: Wikileaks cables not admissible in court

28 April 2013 by David Hart QC

9780199275670Bancoult v. Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Divisional Court, Richards LJ and Mitting J, 16-24 April 2013, judgment awaited, but see 25 July 2012, Stanley Burnton LJ for an earlier judgment   UPDATED

A quick update at the end of the recent judicial review on 24 April by Mr Bancoult on behalf of the Chagossian islanders, but before judgment. The challenge was to the designation of the waters around their islands as a “no take” Marine Protected Area, i.e. one which could not be fished.

I have posted on this saga before, which started with the Chagossians’ eviction from their islands in the Indian Ocean in the late 1960s and early 1970s, here, here, and, in Strasbourg, here. After a judgment from the courts in 2000, the FCO accepted that the original law underlying their departure was unlawful, and agreed to investigate their possible resettlement on some of their islands.

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Exclusion of Iranian dissident lawful, says Court of Appeal

22 March 2013 by Rosalind English

Maryam-Rajavi2009R (on the application of) Lord Carlile of Berriew and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department 20 March 2013  [2013] EWCA Civ 199 – read judgment

 Last year the Divisional Court upheld the Home Secretary’s decision to prevent a dissident Iranian politician coming to the United Kingdom to address the Palace of Westminster: see that decision here and my post discussing the “Politics of Fear” here.

In this appeal, the parliamentarians contended that the Divisional Court had failed to consider the proportionality of the exclusion decision with sufficient scrutiny, and, by giving precedence to the possibility of unlawful actions by the Iranian regime, had given inadequate weight to the rule of law. It was perverse, they said, to justify the exclusion decisions by reference to risks to local staff and British government property in Tehran. Furthermore they argued that there had been unfairness in failing to consult the Parliamentary appellants.
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Court of Appeal downplays Aarhus

4 March 2013 by David Hart QC

_66025376_3166618Evans, R (o.t.a of) Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2013] EWCA Civ 114 – read judgment

There have been important pronouncements over the years by the Aarhus Compliance Committee (ACC) about whether the UK planning system complies with the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention). See my post here for the most important ones, and more are likely to follow shortly (see here). The interest in this domestic planning case is in how the Court of Appeal dealt with those pronouncements, where there is domestic case law going the other way.

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No anonymity for bankers involved in Libor scandal

30 January 2013 by Rosalind English

jXfojqnuU1RNrMC35iMDoxOm1qO4kO9DGraiseley Properties Ltd and others (Claimants) v Barclays Bank Plc (Defendant); Various employees and ex-employees of Barclays Bank plc and Telegraph Group and others (interveners) [2013] EWHC 67 (Comm) 21 January 2013 – read judgment

The Commercial Court has resisted an application to anonymise those individuals at Barclays involved in the LIBOR scandal.

In his firm dismissal of the arguments Flaux J has confirmed the principle that anonymity orders will only be made in cases where the applicant for the order has established that it is strictly necessary for the proper administration of justice. The employees’ claim they should remain anonymous until trial failed at the first hurdle, “because they had simply not established by clear and cogent evidence, or at all, that the order they seek or any aspect of it is strictly necessary for the proper administration of justice.”
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Inuit, standing and the gates to the Luxembourg Court

20 January 2013 by David Hart QC

flagInuit Tapiriit Kanatami et al v. European Parliament opinion of Advocate General Kokott, 17 January 2013, read opinion, on appeal from the General Court read judgment & my post on it

The EU makes a rule. When can the ordinary person affected seek annulment of the rule on the basis that it is unlawful? This is the big issue tussled with in this important and informative Advocate General’s opinion. You might have thought that if the basic ground for challenge was unlawfulness (and that is a high hurdle in itself), then as long as you were in some way affected by the decision, then you should be able to complain about the decision. That is broadly how we do things here in our UK system of judicial review.

But when you get to the EU Courts very different rules of engagement apply – far fewer people can complain about the illegality directly.

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EU’s non-disclosure of UK EU Charter “opt-out” documents is a breach of the EU Charter

13 January 2013 by David Hart QC


11374Decision of the European Ombudsman on complaint against the European Commission, 17 December 2012 – Read decision

The UK secured what Tony Blair described as an opt-out in respect of the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights as part of the negotiations leading up to the Lisbon Treaty – which contains the Charter. Rosalind English has summarised here what the Charter involves, and whether the “opt-out” really changes anything. This recent EU Ombudsman’s decision concerns the attempts of an NGO to extract certain EU Commission documents in the run-up to the Lisbon Treaty. The EU Commission was taking its usual head-in-the-sand approach to disclosure (see various posts listed below), hence the complaint to the Ombudsman. And, as we shall see, the Ombudsman gave the Commission both barrels in this highly critical decision.

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Identity of social workers may be published following fostering bungle

13 January 2013 by Rosalind English

question-mark-face Bristol City Council v C and others [2012] EWHC 3748 (Fam) – read judgment

This was an application for a reporting restriction order arising out of care proceedings conducted before the Bristol Family Proceedings Court. The proceedings themselves were relatively straightforward but, in the course of the hearing, information came to light which gave rise to concerns of an “unusual nature”, which alerted the interest of the press.

Background

After family court proceedings decided that child A was at risk of violence from her father, an interim care order was implemented and A was moved to foster carers. However some time afterwards the local authority received information from the police suggesting that someone living at the address of A’s foster carers had had access to child pornography. A also told social workers that another member of the foster household (also respondent to this action) had grabbed her around the throat. As a consequence police and social services visited the foster carers, informed them of the concerns about pornography, removed all computers from the house and moved A to another foster home. On the following day the male foster carer was found dead, having apparently committed suicide.
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From base pairs to the bedside: medical confidentiality in a changing world

12 December 2012 by Rosalind English

DNA database impact on human rightsThis week David Cameron announced plans  to introduce whole genome mapping for cancer patients and those with rare diseases within the NHS. 

Single gene testing is already available across the NHS ranging from diagnosing cancers to assessing patients’ risk of suffering side effects from treatment, but this initiative will mean that the UK will be the first country in the world to introduce the technology within a mainstream health system, with up to 100,000 patients over three to five years having their whole genome – their personal DNA code –sequenced. According to Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies

The genome profile will give doctors a new, advanced understanding of a patient’s genetic make-up, condition and treatment needs, ensuring they have access to the right drugs and personalised care far quicker than ever before.

What will this mean for medical confidentiality?  The official announcement ends with the following declaration:

1. Genome sequencing is entirely voluntary. Patients will be able to opt out of having their genome sequenced without affecting their NHS care.

2.  Whole genome sequence data will be completely anonymised apart from when it is used for an individuals own care.

3. A number of ways to store this data will be investigated. The privacy and confidentiality of NHS patients will be paramount in this decision.
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Should any genetic information be a trade secret?

3 December 2012 by Rosalind English

dna_infograph1I posted previously on the decision by the   US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to uphold the patents on the genetics company Myriad’s gene sequences for breast cancer research and therapy. In September 2012 the American Civil Liberties Union once again petitioned for Supreme Court review.  The Court should decide today whether to review the case.

The whole question of proprietary claims over genetic information is not limited to patents and is very much open to debate.  In my piece on the US Bioethics Commission’s report to the Obama administration I discussed the challenge faced by lawmakers in regulating the increasing flow of genomic information so as to protect people’s privacy without shutting down the flow of data vital to biomedical research. Whilst it is true that the availability of patent protection creates vital incentives for such research, genetic testing companies like Myriad can extend their exclusivity beyond their patented products by creating limiting access to private databases containing information vital to interpreting the clinical significance of human genetic variations. There is concern that this threatens to impede the clinical interpretation of genomic medicine. The Genomics Law Report Journal reports that

National health systems and insurers, regulators, researchers, providers and patients all have a strong interest in ensuring broad access to information about the clinical significance of variants discovered through genetic testing.
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Prince Charles and the curious case of the Black Spider Letters

23 October 2012 by Matthew Flinn

Litigation relating to information rights can sometimes seem very dry and obscure, entailing lengthy analysis of the merits of public authorities disclosing or withholding information which is highly specialised or obtuse, and of little real interest to the general population. But this case – the case of the “Black Spider Letters” – really is a fascinating one, involving an examination not just of the legislative provisions relating to the disclosure of information, but also a consideration of the existence and extent of constitutional conventions pertaining to the role of the monarchy in government. At the same time, it has the potential to generate such controversy as to make for perfect tabloid fodder. It has been the subject of international news coverage. And it’s not over yet.

It all stems from a request for information made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the Act”) and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (“the Regulations”) by a Guardian journalist, Mr Rob Evans. In April 2005 he wrote to seven Government Departments, and asked for a list of correspondence between Prince Charles and the ministers for those Departments between 1 September 2004 and 1 April 2005, as well as copies of each piece of correspondence. Many of the Departments initially relied on exemptions contained in the Act in order to refuse to confirm or deny whether or not they held such information. Ultimately however, all the Departments admitted that such correspondence did exist, but they refused to disclose it.

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Are Facebook and Twitter making criminals of us all? – Free panel debate, Wed 17 Oct

10 October 2012 by Adam Wagner

Update – only 29 places left (2:10pm)

For anyone interested in the issues I raised in my post yesterday about a man given twelve weeks in prison for making sick jokes on Facebook, I am chairing a Question Time-style panel debate next Wednesday 17 October 2012, 6-7:30pm, organised by the Human Rights Lawyers Association and Article 19, the free speech charity. Article 19 are hosting the event at their offices in Farringdon.

The panel is excellent, including Tamsin Allen (head of Media and Information Law at Bindmans solicitors), John Cooper QC (amongst many other things, counsel for Paul Chambers in the Twitter joke trial) and Gabrielle Guillemin (legal officer at Article 19). The event is free and open to all, but space is limited so if you would like to come, please email administrator@hrla.org.uk.

Full details below or in a prettier version, here:

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