The Impact of Freedom of Information Legislation on Senior Civil Servants

DOI10.1177/095207678600100303
Publication Date01 July 1986
AuthorJohn Ward
SubjectArticles
The
Impact
of
Freedom
of
Information
Legislation
on
Senior
Civil
Servants
John
Ward,
General
Secretary,
FDA:.
Association
of
First
Division
Civil
Servants*
Abstract
This
paper
examines
the
position
of
senior
civil
servants
before
and
after
a
freedomin
of
information
act.
It
considers
how
the
chanige
would
affect
them
not
onlyl
as
policy
advisers
but
as
part
of
the
process
of
making
public
official
information.
The
present
position
As
far
as
the
disclosure
of
official
information
is
concerned,
the
attitude
and
con-
duct
of
civil
servants
is
governed
by
Section
2
of
the
Official
Secrets
Act.
The
effect
of
this
piece
of
legislation
is
to
make
all
official
information
secret
unless
its
disclosure
has
been
authorised.
The
repeal
of
Section
2
and
the
introduction
of
a
freedom
of
information
act
would
exactly
reverse
the
situation.
All
information
would
be
public
unless
it
had
been
specifically
exempted
from
disclosure.
Before
we
examine
the
effect
which
this
change
would
have
on
the
way
in
which
civil
servants
deal
with
official
information
we
need
to
be
clear
about
present
practice.
Section
2
of
the
Official
Secrets
Act
has
a
two-fold
influence.
First,
it
is
potentially
a
criminal
offence
for
civil
servants
to
disclose
any
information
acquired
whilst
undertaking
their
official
duties:
the
information
need
not
relate
to
national
security
or
even
be
classified.
As
the
recent
case
of
Clive
Ponting
showed
the
present
government
is
prepared
to
use
Section
2
to
pursue
those
who
have
given
information
of
no
security
value
not
to
the
agent
of
a
foreign
power
nor
even
to
the
press
but
to
a
member
of
parliament.
The
government
argued,
with
the
support
of
the
trial
judge
but
mercifully
not
the
jury,
that
the
interests
of
the
state
were
synonymous
with
the
policies
of
the
governing
party.
Had
they
succeeded,
Clive
Ponting
would
have
faced
going
to
prison
'with
or
without
hard
labour'
for
up
to
two
-years
for
leaking
information
which
simply
caused
the
government
political
embarrassment.
The
acquittal
of
Clive
Ponting
may
have
lessened
the
prospects
of
civil
servants
facing
criminal
prosecution
for
leaking
politically
embarrassing
information
but
Section
2
still
has
a
second
and
more
pervasive
influence.
The
Civil
Service
Pay
and
Conditions
of
Service
Code
runs
to
11099
paragraphs
and
governs
almost
every
aspect
of
a
civil
servant's
life.
It
is
however
largely
silent
on
ethical
and
professional
*
Paper
presented
to
Political
Studies
Association
Conference,
March
1986.
Public
Policy
and
Administration
Volume
1
No.
3,
Winter
1986
I1I

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