Government tries to abuse the Bill of Rights

Government and the Speaker of the House of Commons collude to try to abuse the 17th Century Bill of Rights to suppress the FOIA disclosure of OGC Gateway Reviews of the ID Cards Programme

Spy Blog 

The Bill of Rights 1689 a historical piece of the English Constitution, which was intended to preserve the rights and freedoms of the public and of Members of Parliament from abuses by the Executive branch of Government, which, in the 17th Century was:

Whereas the late King James the Second by the Assistance of diverse evill Councellors Judges and Ministers imployed by him did endeavour to subvert and extirpate the Protestant Religion and the Lawes and Liberties of this Kingdome.

If you replace “the late King James the Second” with.”Tony Blair”or “Gordon Brown”, the words fit just as well.

We are astonished and furious, that this Bill of Rights, is being abused in the High Court to try to weasel out of having to disclose the early (and now very out of date) Gateway Reviews of the Home Office’s Identity Cards Programme (as it was then, circa 2002 / 2003), by the lawyers for the Government’s Office for Government Commerce, supported by, incredibly, lawyers for the Speaker of the House of Commons, in their Appeal against the Decision of the independent Information Tribunal, which ordered full disclosure, in the public interest.

Are the Government and their lawyers desperate, or evil ?

Why is the Speaker of the House of Commons helping the Executive branch of Government, to suppress freedom of speech and transparent open government, in a matter of huge public interest ?

Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday: 319-year-old law used by Speaker Michael Martin to gag ID report

Computer Weekly: Government seeks to bury ID card reviews

[hat tip to UK Liberty for spotting this before us]

Bill of Rights 1688 ( “Act declared to be a Statute by Crown and Parliament Recognition Act 1689 (c. 1)”)

That the Freedome of Speech and Debates or Proceedings in Parlyament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or Place out of Parlyament.

See the history of this long running Freedom of Information Act disclosure suppression in our OGC Gateway Reviews of the Identity Cards Programme blog category archive.

The lawyers for the Government, seem to be desperately clutching at straws, by claiming that the Information Tribunal, in its very thorough 4 day hearing, involving submissions from top barristers Queens Councils and specialist professors of Freedom of Information Act law, somehow made improper use of a publicly published report from a Select Committee of the House of Commons, the one which scrutinises the Department for Work and Pensions.

See the House of Commons Select Committee on Work and Pensions report: Third Report – 7 July 2004 – Department for Work and Pensions Management of Information Technology Projects: Making IT Deliver for DWP Customers specifically paras. 110 – 123 Publishing OGC Gateway Reviews

If they are allowed to get away with this line of reasoning, then there is no point in any of the supposedly powerful Select Committees whatsoever, if their official public reports following their inquiries and investigations, cannot be used to scrutinise the policies and decisions of Central Government Departments or Agencies.

Incredibly, they are being supported by a lawyer acting on behalf of the Speaker of the House of Commons, to help the Executive branch of the Government (i.e. no longer the Monarch, but a Central Government Department, which was not the case in the 17th Century) to suppress the rights of the public in general, and of the two people who submitted the original Freedom of Information Act requests, which have been considered together by the Information Tribunal. One of those people is actually a Member of Parliament !

This bit of law is what is supposed to protect Members of Parliament from libel cases for what they say, with Parliamentary Privilege, in speeches or debates, in the Chamber of the House of Commons.

This fundamental constitutional law pre-dates the official record of the proceedings of Parliament i.e. Hansard, which started out as a private sector journalistic publishing venture, and the general acceptance of press and media reporting of the procedures of Parliament. Neither of these existed back in the 17th Century.

Provided that these reports use fair and accurate quotations, then these media reports are themselves protected by Parliamentary Privilege from being accused of promulgating what might be a libel, if it had not been uttered by an MP within the House of Commons. This protection against libel or other civil cases also extends to the official written Reports of Select Committees of the House of Commons, and the Lords or Joint Committees of both Houses of Parliament.

There are perverse consequences of this Parliamentary Privilege e.g.
1995 case of the then MP Neil Hamilton (“Cash for Questions”), trying to sue The Guardian newspaper for libel, and being unable to, because The Guardian would not have been able to get a fair trial in a UK Court, by not being able to quote any of his speeches or the rules of the House of Commons. This anomaly was later amended by specific legislation allowing MPs to waive their parliamentary Privilege on an individual, case by case basis, so as to sue for defamation..

See Defamation Act 1996 section 13 Evidence concerning proceedings in Parliament

The provisos in this section of the Act explicitly cover Select Committee evidence and reports.

Information Tribunal was not criticising, let alone libeling or even “Questioning” the Select Committee report. The Information Tribunal simply cited this publicly published Report as evidence, noting the arguments, both for and against publication of such Gateway Reviews.

para 23In the course of this hearing, the Tribunal was referred to the
inquiry conducted by the Select Committee on Work and Pensions that reported in 2004 on Management of Information Technology Projects: Making IT Deliver for DWP Customers. It considered, amongst other things, the arguments for and against publishing GR’s.

The “Questioning” by the Information Tribunal Judgement was of the Office for Government Commerce, part of HM Treasury, headed, at the time (May 2007) by the “control freak” Chancellor / Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

That is definitely not anything to do with the “Freedome of Speech and Debates or Proceedings in Parlyament” which is what the Bill of Rights clause is on about !

How can the High Court, Judge Mr. Justice Stanley Brunton possibly decide that reading or mentioning a Select Committee Report contravenes the Bill of Rights, without also destroying Hansard, official Government Press Releases, the wider Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press ?

How can he ignore the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840 ?

The Speaker of the House of Commons should not be colluding with the Government and the civil service bureaucracy, he should be Ordering them, under threat of Contempt of Parliament, to obey the several cross-party Select Committees such as the Public Accounts Committee, the Home Affairs Committee, and the Work and Pensions Committee etc. have not even been allowed to see copies of Gateway Review reports, even in closed evidence sessions.

That is the scandal which the Speaker of the House of Commons should be employing lawyers to remedy.

He should not be helping to suppress proper public and Parliamentary scrutiny of massive Government IT projects, involving millions of pounds of public money, which will affect every person in the UK, individually.

The publication of the High Court’s Judgment could take several weeks or months. We await the result, with mounting despair and resentment of the English legal system, which is stacked by the Government so heavily against normal individual citizens, and which fails to uphold their fundamental human rights, in a speedy and just manner.