Charity Commission 'should publish more freely'

Regulator considers move after journalist appeals to the Information Tribunal

The Charity Commission is considering a recommendation of the Information Tribunal that it should introduce rules for voluntary disclosure of information covered by exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act.

The tribunal made its call last month after rejecting the appeal by Dominic Kennedy, a journalist at The Times, against the refusal of the commission to release 10,000 pages of documents from its three inquiries into George Galloway's Mariam Appeal charity between 2003 and 2007.

The tribunal ruled that the documents were covered by an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act 2000 relating to information "held only" for statutory inquiries.

Rupert Earle, a partner at Bates Wells & Braithwaite, which acted for Kennedy, told Third Sector there was no reason for such a blanket exemption because the act contained other exemptions covering sensitive information.

"The result is that most documents used in an inquiry are exempt from disclosure for 30 years, even though the purpose of an inquiry is to investigate matters of public importance, restore trust and ensure accountability," he said.

Earle endorsed the tribunal's call for the commission to follow the lead of courts, tribunals and statutory government inquiries and adopt a formal code on what it will release outside the realm of the act. "That would allow appeals against refusals via judicial review," he said.

He said limited documents the commission was ordered to disclose indicated it was worried it might be sued for libel by Galloway. But it would be protected by qualified privilege, Earle said.

A spokeswoman for the commission said it now produced much longer inquiry reports than at the time of the Mariam Appeal inquiry.

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