Tribunal orders full disclosure

Champagne all round – I won my case!

Late today the Information Tribunal published its decision ordering the House of Commons to provide full disclosure of MPs’ second home expenses claims. The decision is not yet on the Tribunal’s website but you can download it here (PDF 2MB).

The House is ordered to publish every claim and receipt for the MPs specified in the requests filed by myself and also the Sunday Times’ Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas and Sunday Telegraph reporter Ben Leapman.

My solicitors have issued a press release which highlights the main points. The only omissions allowed are for ‘sensitive personal data’ such as MPs’ health matters; bank, loan and credit card statements; individual numbers on itemised phone bills and details of contractors who had regular access to MPs’ homes. Security details will also be kept private, as will addresses of MPs who have a good reason – for example a known stalker, terrorist or ‘other criminal threat’.

The Tribunal criticised the way the self-certified expense system was administered:

“The laxity of clarity in the rules for ACA is redolent of a culture very different from that which exists in the commercial sphere or in most other public sector organisations today.”

It stated that the system constitutes “a recipe for confusion, inconsistency and the risk of misuse” and is both ‘deeply unsatisfactory’ and with a ‘shortfall both in transparency and in accountability (that) is acute.”

My only criticism of the ruling is the manner in which it was published. I knew about this decision last week but was under a strict embargo not to speak about it to anyone while additional submissions were taken on the Tribunal’s seven categories of redaction. None of the parties were told when the final decision would be released and it just appeared in my inbox at 4.30pm this afternoon – with no notice. Fortunately, I happened to check my email at 5pm. But by then the Tribunal staff had left for the day – without putting the decision online – so I had to forward it to the media and then rush around town giving interviews!

BBC Online News picked up the story and they also provide some footage from the broadcast news report.

9 Responses to “Tribunal orders full disclosure”

  1. Mike Law says:

    Well done Heather!!

    A true victory for the cause of transparency and open governance.

  2. Nick says:

    Congratulations, Heather: an excellent result.

    One query, though. Back in June, weren’t you complaining that the ICO acted badly when it put out a press release and published the decision at the same time as notifying you? This time, you got the information first. Isn’t that what you wanted last time?

    Perhaps, in future, it would be sensible to nominate your solicitor to receive the decisions on your behalf? They should know how to get hold of you.

  3. ukliberty says:

    Well done!

    I note from the BBC article that the MEC is taking “legal advice” – do you think they will appeal?

  4. Big result for open government and fostering the UK’s FoI culture. Very very well done.

  5. Sinclair says:

    Well done Heather.

    I caught your interview on BBC News 24.

    Congratulations on your efforts. Looking forward to hearing of your next FOI project.

  6. heather says:

    Nick – I’m pleased they emailed me directly – the problem was that they did so at 4.30pm and without a telephone call or any other notice. It’s only thanks to my obsessive email checking that I saw the decision had come through. From a news perspective, anything after 4pm is highly inconvenient because all the papers are laid out and news is more likely to be underplayed. That’s why the Government always releases controversial things at the close of the business day. The other problem was that the Tribunal released the decision and then shut their office, so I had reporters calling me for the decision.

  7. Nick says:

    Heather – thanks for the response, which I understand.

  8. Ben Sansum says:

    Congratulations!

    A fine success that demonstrates the value of perseverance.

  9. Rick Blum says:

    Congratulations, Heather, on a nice victory.

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