Dec 21, 2015

Freedom of Information and Prince Charles' Insight into Political Affairs

Earlier this month, four chapters of the Cabinet Office's "precedent book", were released to Republic, a campaign group which campaigns for an elected head of state rather than a monarchy. The release of this information was the result of a three year battle in which the Cabinet Office had vigorously fought Republics' request under the Freedom of Information Act. The Cabinet Office received criticism for refusing to release the information on request, rather than being open about its arrangements.

The precedent book shows that Prince Charles, amongst a handful of other ministers and the Queen, receive copies of cabinet papers and those of ministerial committees. The precedent book arrangement has been ongoing for at least twenty years and allegedly dates back as far as the 1930's.

The publicity surrounding the precedent book has provoked allegations that Prince Charles is the "best informed, best connected lobbyist in the UK", and further, that he is a lobbying for his own interests.

At the heart of the scandal are legal issues relating to the Freedom of Information Act and the information within its scope but not copyright for the reasons set out below.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the "Act")

The Act creates a public right to access information held by public authorities. It covers "any recorded information that is held by a public authority in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and by UK-wide public authorities based in Scotland". There is a separate Scottish Freedom of Information Act.

Personal data is excluded from the Act, however, requests for such data can be made by way of a subject access request under the Data Protection Act 1998. Such a request must be made by the individual who is the subject of the data held (personal data about themselves).

Copyright

In May we wrote about Prince Charles' "Black Spider" memo's, and the relevant issues surrounding the Act and copyright. In summary, in arguing that the memo's should not be released, Prince Charles' lawyers did not raise a copyright argument. The reason for this was that there would be no infringement of copyright in releasing the information as such a release was under statutory authority (under the authority of the Act) and thus would not infringe copyright.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised above or have any questions regarding Intellectual Property rights generally please do not hesitate to contact the team at McDaniel & Co. on 0191 281 4000 or legal@mcdanielslaw.com

Posted by: in: Civil Procedure, News

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