This particular case involved Freedom of Information requests to the three individual Crown Dependencies and the UK Home Office, on the subject of their offers to take some Syrian refugees.

Key points:

  1. Home Office and Information Commissioner lose FOI disclosure case.
  2. Confirms Home Office’s culture of secrecy and poor FOI record.
  3. Highlights poor investigative processes by Information Commissioner.
  4. Reveals Home Office did not want transparency because of fears that local authorities would not take Syrian refugees.

This shows that the Home Office in the Syrian (VPR) programme is flawed, discriminates against Christians and breaches human rights.

The misinformation involving the Syrian (VPR) programme applies to Local Authorities and Crown Dependencies.

Robert Goodwill MP was the then Home Office Minister, who authorised the non-disclosure and secretive government.

A Tribunal Panel Ruling dated 1st August and released on 6th August 2018, overturned the decision by the Information Commissioner that agreed with the Home Office’s refusal to disclose communications with the Crown Dependencies about taking Syrian refugees.

The Home Office must now disclose this information, which was requested by me on 23rd August 2016 and which on 20th October 2016, they decided to withhold.

It is not known when this information will be released, and even though the Home Office has a poor track record on these matters, it has to comply with the ruling. The Home Office will, however, be allowed to remove the names of some officials from the communications, but what is said in them will be fully disclosed.

As a former elected Member of the Guernsey States (Parliament) between 1991-2004, I have had a long interest in openness and transparency in government.

I have made Freedom of Information requests in Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man and the United Kingdom, on a range of subjects.

I have noticed that a number of public bodies do not act in the spirit of what was intended with Freedom of Information laws, and try to use all sorts of legal exemptions to avoid disclosure.

Often this is not in the public interest but in their own interest of a culture of non-disclosure. It is this culture of “we know best and the public do not matter,” which I am campaigning to change.

There has to be a presumption of disclosure unless there is a very serious issue of national security at stake. In this case, it was a mixture of pettiness and a determination not to have public disclosure on a government policy which had many faults.

It is my contention that this particular policy was a bad one which was rushed, but it had little chance of becoming a good one because of this refusal to engage with the public on the policy in question.

The issue raised a great deal of public concern, but initially there was a great deal of secrecy about what was going on. In Jersey’s case, they stated that there were no records of communications with the UK authorities, which seemed to be outright disinformation. Guernsey and the Isle of Man admitted to such communications, but would not disclose all that was requested, including the disputed material. Once the three Crown Dependencies had decided that they were not going to take Syrian refugees, Guernsey and the Isle of Man were more co-operative with their information responses.

Jersey said “No” to taking Syrian refugees on 1st December 2015, Guernsey on 6th February 2016 and the Isle of Man on 18th February 2017.

Guernsey and the Isle of Man effectively said it was up to the UK government what they disclosed but would not commit to saying they would not object if the information was disclosed. So they could have been more cooperative.

They would not release the communications for similar reasons to those given by the Home Office. That doing so would affect UK/Crown Dependencies relations and co-operation on other issues. It was clearly nonsense.

It was simply to protect people’s political reputations.

[To be continued on UKIP Daily in the coming days.]

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