Guardian loses Fol bid to name misbehaving judges - Press Gazette

Guardian loses Fol bid to name misbehaving judges

The Guardian has lost its Freedom of Information battle to name and shame judges who have been subject to disciplinary proceedings.

An Information Tribunal has ruled that the information is exempt from the FoI Act under section 40, which deals with personal data.

The tribunal also found that the “public interest in maintaining that exemption outweighed the public interest related to the disclosure of the requested information”.

The Consitutional Reform Act (2005) now gives the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice sole power to publish details of judges’ reprimands.

But the Guardian FoI request relates to the names of some 170 judges who misbehaved and were disciplined before then CRA came into force.

The original FoI request was made in July 2005 by Guardian reporter Rob Evans in which he asked for details of all reprimands made by the Lord Chancellor against judges since August 1998.

The Guardian appeal to the Information Tribunal followed the rejection of an earlier appeal to the Information Commissioner over the government’s refusal to release the asked-for information.

The tribunal heard that disciplinary matters covered by the Guardian FoI request included a judge who was convicted of drunken driving, a judge who fell asleep in the closing stage of a criminal trial and a coroner who had accumulated an undue backlog of cases

In evidence, Dale Simon, the head of the Office for Judicial Complaints, said: “Scrutiny and debate over the process and outcome of a disciplinary investigation could inhibit the willingness of judicial office holders (and other relevant witnesses) to co-operate with such an investigation.

“Disclosure in direct opposition to the assurances of confidentiality that were given to all participants prior to their involvement would inevitably lead to members of the judiciary being increasingly reluctant to play an active role in the process.

“As a result, future investigations into improper conduct would be likely to be prejudiced.”

Guardian reporter Evans argued: “The only way to show that the procedures are working properly is to open them to scrutiny and to publish details of the cases so that the public can see what is going on.

“Keeping these matters secret is no way to maintain public confidence.”

But the tribunal sided with the government, concluding: “Disclosure would risk undermining a judge’s authority while carrying out his or her judicial function.”

Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette