Could ministers now be forced to disclose the content of their ministerial diaries?

On 24 May 2017, the Court of Appeal agreed that former Conservative health secretary Andrew Lansley's Ministerial Diary should be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 ("FOIA").

A journalist, Mr Simon Lewis, made a FOIA request to the Department of Health for the disclosure of the diary of Mr Lansley for the period 12 May 2010 to 30 April 2011.

As reported in The Guardian: "Lansley was the driving force behind the radical Health and Social Care Act, which sought to expand competition in the NHS, and sparked controversy after the Conservative manifesto had promised to avoid “top-down reorganisation” of the health service."

Initially the Department of Health provided Mr Lewis with a heavily redacted version of the diary, but following a complaint to the Information Commissioner ("IC"), the IC required the Department of Health to disclose most of the withheld information. The Department of Health then appealed to the First Tier Tribunal unsuccessfully, then to the Upper Tribunal, culminating in the matter being before the Court of Appeal.

Sir Terence Etherton, Master of the Rolls, gave the judgement with which Lady Justice Black and Lord Justice Davis agreed.

Sir Terence said there were “11 particular types of benefit” from disclosing the information, including "general value of openness" and "transparency in public administration".

On the ground of whether the diary had been held by the Department of Health for the purposes of FOIA, the Court of Appeal held that "while Mr Lansley was a Minister in the Department, for the purposes of s.3 FOIA the entries in the diary were held by the Department for itself even if they were also held (in the case of personal and constituency matters) for Mr Lansley as well".

The Court added: "I cannot see that the termination of Mr Lansley's ministerial position made any difference to that position".

"In particular it seems to me clear that it remained relevant or potentially relevant to the Department to know, as a matter of historical record, where Mr Lansley had been and with whom on particular occasions, should there be a political, journalistic or historical interest raised with the Department in relation to those matters."

The Department of Health's appeal was rejected.

So as Oscar Wilde's Gwendolyn remarked in The Importance OF Being Earnest "I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train", perhaps we will all soon have access to some sensational reads for the train in the form of former ministers diaries.

This note contains general guidance only on English Law as at May 2017 and does not contain legal advice. You should take legal advice on the circumstances of your own case. If we can be of assistance in that regard please let us know. Ashfords LLP is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. The information in this note is intended to be general information about English law only and not comprehensive. It is not to be relied on as legal advice nor as an alternative to taking professional advice relating to specific circumstances.

Send us a message