On 21st March, 2011, the First-tier Appeals Tribunal (Information Rights) published their decision in the appeal - Nicoll v ICO (EA/2010/0157).
The decision of the Tribunal is that the Appeal be Dismissed.
As most will know a request was made almost three years ago (April, 2008) under the FOI Act to the Cabinet Office for the release of the ‘recommendation of the HD Committee approved by the Queen that the PJM can be accepted but not worn’. They refused to release this information and their Internal Review also refused to release it. An appeal was then made to the Information Commissioner but he also refused to release the information.
The request for this information was based on the letter from Sir Robin Janvrin (Janvirn on the letter?) to Jack Straw MP, Foreign Secretary, on 21st December, 2005, which said that the Queen had approved the ‘recommendation’.
An appeal was then made to the First-tier Appeals Tribunal (Information Rights) against the Decision Notice of the Information Commissioner. The Tribunal then invited the Cabinet Office to join this appeal without as much as ‘by-your-leave’ from the person initiating the appeal.
A telephone conference was held by the appeal Judge who was assisted by his tribunal clerk. The ICO was represented by a solicitor who was also the Group Manager, and the Cabinet Office was represented by a QC, a firm of Treasury solicitors and Michael Piggott of the Cabinet Office.
Later the Cabinet Office submitted a statement from a senior civil servant who is in charge of the Cabinet Office Ceremonial Secretariat. He said in his statement that he has 37 years service in the civil service and in 1992 was the Private Secretary to the then Prime Minister. He also said ‘Membership of the (HD) Committee comprises crown and public servants. All are, it goes without saying, required to maintain high standards of fairness, impartiality and integrity’....whew!
The Cabinet Office went to great lengths and expense to prevent the release of the ‘recommendation approved by the Queen that the PJM can be accepted but not worn’ and have refused to produce this information.
The appeal appears to have floundered on the retrospectively introduced Section 21 of the FOI Act by the Cabinet Office. They made no mention of this exemption until after the appeal commenced. The appeal decision states –
• The Cabinet Office in response to Mr Nicoll’s initial enquiry did not refer to S.21 FOIA nor was it referred to by the Information Commissioner in his Decision Notice. It may seem rather unfair to Mr Nicoll that the Respondents should seek to rely on exemptions that were not referred to at an earlier stage in this matter. However the decision of the Upper Tribunal in cases GIA/1694/2010 and GIA/2098/2010 confirms that this is a permissible course of action for the Respondents.
So basically a person can be treated unfairly yet the decision goes against him based on unfair principles. Whatever happened to justice in this country.
What we can derive from this lengthy, expensive and sometimes very difficult appeal is that the Cabinet Office has gone to great lengths to prevent British veterans from being allowed to see what they said was a recommendation when in fact they will not (cannot) produce the alleged recommendation.
The full decision of the Appeals Tribunal will be published later on their website –
http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/formsguidancedecision.htm. but should anyone wish a copy sent to them then they should contact me by private message enclosing their email address and I will send them a copy.
A disappointing decision for the honourable PJM and those veterans who faced active service for their country in the most inhospitable areas in the world, the jungles and swamps of Malaya/Malaysia/Borneo but it does show us that every effort has been made to prevent the truth being known, and one can only ask ‘What have the Cabinet Office and those dark forces lurking in the background of all things Royal, got to hide?’ And, why has it cost so much to the taxpayer when our country is in such a poor financial state? Where is their impartiality, fairness and integrity now then?