For the first time in history, a British minister has vetoed the decision made by Britain’s Information Tribunal regarding the release of documents relating to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
In this case, Justice Secretary Jack Straw blocked the impending release of the minutes of top-level government meetings regarding the legality of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Information Tribunal last month ruled that the March 2003 meetings were an exceptional case in which disclosure was so important to the public interest that they should be released far earlier than the minutes of cabinet meetings generally are.
In a statement to the House of Commons, Secretary Straw declared that there was a far greater public interest in keeping the matter a secret, saying that to do otherwise would discourage cabinet discussions on “difficult issues” and would “damage the ability of historians… to reconstruct and understand the process cabinet followed in any particular instance.”
Antiwar activists in the UK condemned the move, pointing out that the minutes did not single out who made individual points and would therefore not risk candid discussions in the cabinet. The key question in the minutes was advice given by then-Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, and reports that the Blair Administration pressured him to change his public stance on the legality of the war.