Guernsey ministers favour information access code

Deputy Peter Harwood
Image caption Deputy Harwood said the code would introduce a 'culture of openness'

Guernsey's Policy Council has drafted a code of practice on access to public information and has come out against introducing a statutory law.

Chief Minister Peter Harwood said: "A sensible balance needs to be struck between the desire for information and the cost of producing it."

The UK already has a freedom of information law, while Jersey and the Isle of Man are developing legislation.

States members will debate the proposed code at their meeting on 30 July.

Deputy Harwood said the Policy Council had "weighed up the costs and benefits of each approach" and had decided a code of practice represented a "more appropriate way of delivering an effective and efficient policy".

The first guiding principle of the code, if approved, will be to disclose information unless there are reasons to withhold it.

Possible justifications for non-disclosure would include security, legal or external affairs considerations.

The proposals, signed by all 11 members of the Policy Council, also cite as an exception: "Information whose disclosure would harm the frankness and candour of internal discussion, including proceedings of the Policy Council and boards of the departments".

A 2011 report, commissioned by the States and authored by a former senior civil servant at the UK's Ministry of Justice, had recommended islanders be allowed to attend department meetings.

"Confidential communications between departments" are also amongst the list of 15 types of exception, along with "vexatious" or "voluminous" information requests.

Confidentiality clauses

The Policy Council said the target for responding to simple requests would be 20 days.

Complaints over a refusal to comply will need to be made to the relevant department's chief officer and then, if necessary, its political board.

A new policy on the use of confidentiality clauses in contracts and agreements will also be debated, as part of the same Policy Council report.

The use of such clauses has been heavily criticised in Guernsey in recent years.

In March, the Scrutiny Committee criticised the Home Department's refusal to reveal how much compensation had been paid to a legal firm, whose offices were illegally raided by police.

In 2011, Guernsey fishermen complained the details of a compensation settlement with UK fishermen were withheld, after a fishing licence regime was deemed unlawful.

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