Media lawyers have welcomed an "important development" in the right to access information from public authorities, after a seven-year legal battle by a Times journalist.
A ruling today by the Supreme Court suggests that journalists seeking documents from a public authority have a common law right to information which runs separately from the Freedom of Information Act.
It means that if an FoI request is refused, citing one of the law's various exemptions, the requester could apply for a judicial review under common law instead of lodging a complaint with the Information Commissioner.
The Times's Dominic Kennedy had tried since 2007 to obtain information relating to three Charity Commission inquiries into the Mariam Appeal, which was founded by MP George Galloway.
The Commission had refused to disclose any information under the Freedom of Information Act, citing an absolute exemption for information gathered as part of a statutory inquiry.
Kennedy took the case as far as the Supreme Court, arguing that the exemption ended when the inquiry concluded – not 30 years later as had been claimed. He referred to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, on the freedom to receive and impart information.
The Supreme Court said the absolute exemption under the FoI law was valid beyond the length of the inquiry, but it ruled that Kennedy had a common law right to access the information as there was a "genuine public interest" for it to be disclosed.
Kennedy was represented by the law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite. BWB partner Rupert Earle, said: "This judgment is an important development in ensuring that those exercising power, particularly quasi-judicial power, may be held to account, and is a tribute to Mr Kennedy’s dogged determination in pursuing his request for (so far) nearly seven years."
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