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England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court) Decisions
You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court) Decisions >> Corporate Officer of the House of Commons v The Information Commissioner & Ors  EWHC 1084 (Admin) (16 May 2008)
Cite as:  3 All ER 403 (DC),  EWHC 1084 (Admin)
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SUPREME COURT OF JUDICATURE
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
LORD JUSTICE LATHAM
MR JUSTICE BLAKE
| Corporate Officer of the House of Commons
|- and -
|The Information Commissioner
Jonathan Michael Ungoed-Thomas
James Goudie QC and Akhlaq Choudhury (Mr Mark Thorogood) for the 1st Respondent
Hugh Tomlinson QC (instructed by Simons Muirhead & Burton) for the 2nd Respondent
Simon McKay, Solicitor Advocate (of McKay Law, Solicitors and Advocates) for the 3rd Respondent
Philip Coppel (instructed by Bates Wells & Braithwaite) for the 4th Respondent
Hearing dates : 7th May 2008
Crown Copyright ©
President of the Queen's Bench Division :
This is the judgment of the Court
Narrative of the present proceedings
a) On 4th January 2005 Mr Ungoed-Thomas, the fourth respondent, made a request for details on the allowances claimed by Tony Blair in 2001/2, 2002/3 and 2003/4, "specifically, a list of the items totalling £43,029". At the same time he made a request in regard to the allowances claimed by Margaret Beckett over the same period, asking
"exactly what items the allowances were spent on and the amounts spent on each of the items over each of the three years" and "if refurbishments or works were paid for out of the public purse… what these refurbishments or works were".
b) On the following day Mr Ben Leapman, the third respondent, requested copies of the original submissions, together with copies of receipts, rental agreements or mortgage interest statements from a number of named MPs in support of their claims in respect of each of the same three financial years. These MPs were named as Tony Blair, Barbara Follett, Alan Keen, Ann Keen, Peter Mandelson and John Wilkinson.
c) In March 2006 Ms Heather Brooke, the second respondent, requested a detailed breakdown of the accommodation allowances claimed by MPs. However she recast her request which sought a detailed breakdown of such claims for 2005/6 and all information held by the House authorities, in relation to the accommodation claims made by Tony Blair, David Cameron, Menzies Campbell, Gordon Brown, George Osborne, John Prescott, George Galloway, Margaret Beckett, William Hague and Mark Oaten. Mr Galloway was an Inner London MP who was not entitled to and made no claim for the allowances. In his case, therefore, no question arose for decision.
For convenience we shall describe the second, third and fourth respondents to the appeal as the applicants.
The legislative structure
"40 - (1) Any information to which a request for information relates is exempt information if it constitutes personal data of which the applicant is the data subject.
(2) Any information to which a request for information relates is also exempt information if
(a) it constitutes personal data which do not fall within sub-section (1) and
(b) either the first or the second condition below is satisfied
(3) The first condition is
(a) in a case where the information falls within any of paragraphs (a)-(d) to the definition of "data" in section 1(1) of the Data Protection Act 1998, that the disclosure of the information to a member of the public otherwise than under this Act would contravene:
(i) Any of the data protection principles…
(b) in any other case, that the disclosure of the information to a member of the public otherwise than under this Act would contravene any of the data protection principles if the exemptions in section 33A(1) of The Data Protection Act 1998 (which relate to manual data held by public authorities) were disregarded".
"1. Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully and, in particular, shall not be processed unless –
(a) at least one of the conditions in Schedule 2 is met; and
(b) in the case of sensitive personal data, at least one of the conditions in Schedule 3 is also met."
"The processing is necessary for the purposes of legitimate interests pursued by …the third party or parties to whom the data are disclosed, except where the processing is unwarranted in any particular case by reason of prejudice to the rights and freedoms or legitimate interests of the data subject".
The decision of the Information Tribunal
"I am writing to all Members to tell you what the Freedom of Information Act 2000 will mean in connection with your parliamentary allowances.
The Act which comes into force on the 1st January 2005 gives people a right of access to information held by public bodies. Our legal advice is that the House should publish the total sum for each allowance which each Member has used for each financial year.
This approach meets our Freedom of Information obligation and provides transparency and accountability, while respecting the reasonable personal privacy of Members and their staff".
"…for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 the House of Commons Administration is a Public Authority and therefore the information it holds will fall within the scope of that Act".
"The Speaker wrote to MPs in December 2002 and again in June 2003 in connection with the publication of annual totals for each of the different allowances in the House's publication scheme. The first letter stated that this would meet the House's obligations under FOIA. But it was only in 2005 that the ACA forms began to contain a statement expressly reminding MPs that information held by the House of Commons administration fell within FOIA".
"It was suggested to us that these circumstance confined MP's reasonable expectations of how their personal data, submitted to the Fees Office, would be handled, namely, that they reasonably expected that nothing would be released except the totals contained in the publication scheme. We found this submission unconvincing. FOIA was passed into law in 2000. In our view MPs, as part of the legislature, would or should have been fully aware of the provisions of FOIA which might affect them. The obligation referred to in the Speaker's December 2002 letter would naturally have been understood as the obligation to implement a publication scheme, which came into force a few days earlier (30 November 2002). Neither letter made any specific reference to how individual requests for additional information might be dealt with when FOIA came fully into force. Moreover we noted a letter in the closed bundle, dated in May 2002, in which Mr Walker's office reminded a particular MP of the importance, in view of FOIA, of providing a breakdown of expenses requested by the office. We take this as an illustration that the possibility of a freedom of information request was something which was taken into account in the handling of MP's allowance claims long before the Act was brought fully into force on 1 January 2005. Indeed, Mr Walker in his evidence expressly recognised that published guidance available to MPs (such as the Green Book) was entirely neutral concerning what would happen in respect of requests under FOIA for information beyond that contained in the publication scheme, that the House ought to and does deal with such requests on their merits, and that it was always possible that further information might be released. Thus Ms Grey appeared to us to accept in her closing submissions that MPs knew or ought to have known that requests for further information might be made under FOIA."
Disclosure of addresses to which ACA claims relate
"(6) All details relating to the security measures at MP's homes ( whether goods or services) save that where an amount has been identified by the MP as relating to security, that reference and the total amount attributed to it shall not be redacted.
(7) Where a particular MP has a special security reason for keeping the address of his or her main or second home confidential (for example, because of a problem with a stalker, or a terrorist or other criminal threat), that address may be redacted. "
"The court has already had the occasion …to state its understanding of the phrase "necessary in a democratic society" the nature of its functions in the examination of issues turning on that phrase and the manner in which it will perform those functions.
The court has noted that, while the adjective "necessary", within the meaning of article 10(2) is not synonymous with "indispensable", neither has it the flexibility of such expressions as "admissible", "ordinary", "useful", "reasonable" or "desirable" and that it implies the existence of a "pressing social need."