Legal Diary: The Royal Albert Hall and FoI disclosure moves

In May last year, the solicitor representing Richard Lyttelton, former president of the Royal Albert Hall, asked the Charity Commission to release under the Freedom of Information Act recent correspondence between it and the hall. It complied, withholding personal details and confidential legal advice.

Extracts from the letters - notably the demand by the commission that those who own and can profit from seats in the hall should be a minority rather than a majority on the charity's governing council - were published six months later in Third Sector.

Before that, in July, the solicitor made a request for more correspondence, but the commission declined, saying it had now decided disclosure would hamper resolution of the matter: "The effectiveness of the case is dependent on an open and frank exchange of information, which would not be possible if the correspondence were released."

In September this year, the commission cited the same reason when refusing a similar request from Third Sector. Asked what had changed between its release of material in May last year and its decision not to do so in July, the commission said it had had "ongoing discussions" with the hall for several years and its "current regulatory engagement" began in June last year. It later added that an operational compliance case had been opened in that month and FoI decisions depended on the facts and circumstances at the time.

In this case it seems that disclosure was acceptable during ongoing discussions, which included tough demands such as changing the charity's governance, but not when those discussions became regulatory engagement.

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