Open Democracy: “We won – thanks to you!” – Michael Gove’s ‘Orwellian’ FOI Blocking Halted By Judge

Gove Broke the law and held back FOI requests

Dear friends of openDemocracy,

It’s not often you get to say that your reporting delivered two legal victories against the British government in one week. But today we can.

For the past three years, we’ve been asking a simple question. How has Michael Gove’s ‘Orwellian’ Clearing House unit been blocking Freedom of Information (FOI) requests?

The authorities refused to tell us. Even though we knew that the Cabinet Office’s unit had been circulating lists of journalists around Whitehall. Experts said it was likely breaking the law.

The information regulator ruled in our favour. But still, the government would not release the information we asked for.

Gove attacked openDemocracy publicly. So we took our case to the courts, with law firm Leigh Day.

And we won

Tribunal judge Chris Hughes ruled that there is a “profound lack of transparency” about the Clearing House operation and “a lacuna in public information” about how it has been vetting FOI requests from journalists, campaigners and researchers.

The Cabinet Office has been ordered to release the documents requested by openDemocracy. Labour has called for an investigation into whether Michael Gove broke the ministerial code.

The team behind this work has just been nominated for Private Eye’s prestigious Paul Foot award for investigative journalism. 

But that’s not all.

On Wednesday, the High Court in London ruled that Michael Gove – it hasn’t been a good week for him – had broken the law when the government awarded a £560,000 COVID contract to Public First, a PR firm run by his allies.

The case was taken by the Good Law Project after we broke the story of Public First’s “unlawful” contract last summer. 

And more than 18,000 people signed our petition calling for the government to think again on its ‘sneaky’ plans to build a huge new database of English GP patients’ medical records. 

We joined forces with a coalition of other non-profit groups and threatened the UK Government with legal action – and in less than a week, we forced them to announce a pause on the process whilst officials reconsider their approach. 

This success could not have happened without your support.

 

 

Thank you,

 

Peter Geoghegan, 
UK investigations editor, openDemocracy

 

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