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Through the use of Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and this Blog, Youngman Consultancy demonstrates its commitment to ensuring people have the help needed to address their right to hold governments accountable and protect their own privacy. It is only by knowing your rights and being prepared to speak up that you can ensure a just society for all of its members.
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If no one said All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.”, then someone should have, because it is true. The same thing goes for bullies and injustice. As scary as it can be, if you are going to consider yourself human, then you have to speak out for what it right.
Sunday, May 27 2012
The article by Sean Clare, BBC News, is a very worrying trend in what is argued as one of the homes of democracy. No government likes FOI. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18017196
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It’s fine when they are in opposition and get an opportunity to embarrass the government, or when they first come into power and can reveal all the embarrassing maters of the previous government. However, it is a different matter when the government has its own decisions looked at in the light of public opinion. After 45 years in the NSW public service I am yet to see a government that can stand prolonged public scrutiny.
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The decision by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and the British Government to veto and override a Information Tribunal order to release the NHS "risk register" rather than appeal the matter in court is not only a blow to any British claim of democracy, but a very worrying move by a government that, by making this move, places itself outside the legal system.
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Andrew Lansley
Andrew Lansley: Veto was in the public interest
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The concept of FOI legislation is that once an agency, or government, has made a decision it should be able to stand the glare of public examination and be able to justify as to why it came to the decision it did.
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Overruling Information Commissioner Christopher Graham's order to publish the NHS risk register, Mr Lansley told Parliament it was in the "public interest" to keep it secret and protect discussions between ministers and civil servants. The argument that the release of the document might inhibit public servants so that they may not be prepared to give candid and frank advice is rubbish. So too is the argument that “the higher the office of the persons between whom the communications pass and the more sensitive the issues involved in the communication, the more likely it will be that the communication should not be disclosed”.
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This arguement, known in Australia as the Howard factors, was largely debunked as far back as 1993 (Eccleston and Department of Family Services and Aboriginal and Islander Affairs (1993) 1 QAR 60 ). Public servants are required by definition and law to provide their advice to governments. If it were to be accepted that the release of that advice would mean they were not prepared to continue to do so, then every decision of government would be beyond examination and evaluation.
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In Eccleston it was stated, in part, “The democratic rationale for the enactment of freedom of information legislation, the cornerstone of which is the conferral of a legally enforceable right to access government-held information, is encapsulated in the notions of accountability and public participation. With the object of assisting to secure a more healthy functioning of the democratic aspects of our system of government, and in particular a government responsive to the public it serves, the FOI Act is intended to:
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(a) enable interested members of the public to discover what the government has done and why something was done, so that the public can make more informed judgments of the performance of the government, and if need be bring the government to account through the democratic process.”
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There have been comments for some time that should worry every British citizen. The growing criticism of the Act from Gus O'Donnell, Tony Blair and Jack Straw, who called for additional protections for policy-makers.
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Lord O'Donnell has said “disclosing documents such as the risk register would "reduce their effectiveness" and would have a "chilling effect" on opinion-sharing”. The whole concept that there is a belief in government and the British public service that they should be protected from being held accountable is what is “chilling”. Why? Why should governments and public servants be protected from being accountable?
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The New York Times reported on 2 April 2012 that “British lawmakers and rights activists joined a chorus of protest Monday against plans by the government to give the intelligence and security services the ability to monitor the phone calls, e-mails, text messages and Internet use of every person in the country.”
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The British Government is arguing for democracy to be allowed to take its rightful place in many countries in the world. It needs to take a hard look at itself. The Judicial Member in General Manager, WorkCover Authority of NSW v Law Society of NSW [2006] NSWCA 84 (24 April 2006) stated, in part:
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With the benefit of hindsight it might more confidently be said that the Crown privilege authorities to which Davies J referred for guidance (the Howard factors) were not an apt point of reference. They were decided in an era in which, as Kirby P explained in Commissioner of Police v District Court of New South Wales & Anor (at 611), “the administrative tradition of New South Wales followed that of Britain, from which it was derived [and] embraced a high measure of secrecy and was far from open”. Case law tended to reflect that stance, as might be seen in the passage from Conway v Rimmer [1968] UKHL 2; [1968] AC 910(at 952) to which Davies J referred (Re Howard at 634). Freedom of information legislation, as the earlier discussion reveals, was intended to cast aside the era of closed government and principles developed in that era may, with the benefit of twenty or more years of experience, be seen as anachronisms.
Posted by: Phillip Youngman AT 10:30 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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