Thursday, 16 February 2017

Protecting Official Data (1)

The Law Commission, acting at the request of the Cabinet Office, has issued a detailed report on the Official Secrets Acts and has put forward provisional proposals for reforms. – Official Secrets Acts reviewed to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.    The report (Protection of Official Data) is available via the Commission’s website together with a summary and the Commission is consulting on the report.  The consultation period ends on 3rd April 2017.

The report has already met with considerable comment – for example -  International Business Times (Jason Murdock 2nd February), BBC News 2nd February,  The Guardian 13th February  (Shami Chakrabarti) and  Liberty 13th February.   Possibly in an attempt to distance itself from the proposals, the government commented that the proposals arose from a request by the previous government – The Guardian 13th February (Owen Bowcott and Rowena Mason) where it is reported that a No. 10 source said: “This is a consultation by an independent body instigated by a previous prime minister.” “It will never be our policy to restrict the freedom of investigative journalism or public service whistleblowing.”

Former Lord Justice of Appeal Sir Henry Brooke has considered the proposals in this post on his blog.  Sir Henry concludes by hoping that “when the dust settles the Commission’s critics will also settle down to prepare responses to the consultation of the quality that a thoughtful paper of this outstanding quality deserves.”

A previous post on Law and Lawyers (Blunderbusses and Armalites) looked at the background to the Official Secrets Act.  However, it is important to note that the Law Commission’s report is not solely concerned with those Acts because various other statutory provisions offer protection to official material.   A non-definitive list of sections in Acts of Parliament dealing with unauthorised disclosure is at Appendix C of the Commission's report.  124 such provisions are listed.  They range across a very wide spectrum of activity from Atomic Energy to Milk Marketing to the National Lottery etc!

Given the length of the Commission’s report, a further post will look at it in more detail.

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