1688–1988 pp 143-166 | Cite as

Official Secrecy and Freedom of Information

  • James Cornford


The law relating to official information is unsatisfactory whether it be in respect of the protection of official secrets and government confidentiality, of legitimate public access to official information, of the safeguarding of personal privacy, or of the maintenance of an efficient system of official record-keeping and a proper national archive. These matters — protection, access, privacy and records — are closely related and proposals for reform in the law relating to any one of them must take the others into account. In an ideal world one would plan a coherent reform embracing them all. There is no prospect of a grand design: progress will be piecemeal if it takes place at all and the best we can hope for is to strive for consistency and to avoid the pitfalls marked out by other countries where incompatible provisions have been enacted. Concern about access to personal information and protection against its misuse is probably the major cause for public anxiety about official information in this country, the main reason for support for Freedom of Information legislation, and the subject of the largest proportion of requests for access under such legislation overseas.


Civil Servant Government Department Public Access Public Record Criminal Sanction 
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  1. 7.
    This argument was rehearsed in an earlier debate on the committee stage of Mr Clement Freud’s Official Information Bill in March 1979.Google Scholar
  2. 10.
    See, for instance, the interesting report produced by the Civil Service Department following the Sachsenhausen Case: Legal Entitlements and Administrative Practices: A report by officials, HMSO, London, 1962.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    Armstrong, Sir Robert, The Duties and Responsibilities of Civil Servants in relation to Ministers. Note by the Head of the Home Civil Service, Cabinet Office, 25 February 1985, para. 11.Google Scholar
  4. 14.
    For a similar but much better-informed judgement see Patrick Nairne ‘Policy-making in Public’ in Richard A. Chapman and Michael Hunt (eds), Open Government, Croom Helm, London, 1987.Google Scholar
  5. 16.
    Bennett (1980): Colin Bennett and Peter Hennessy,A Consumer’s Guide to Open Government: Techniques for Penetrating Whitehall, Outer Circle Policy Unit, March 1980.Google Scholar
  6. 18.
    The Public Records system and its relations to FOI are concisely discussed in Michael Roper’s ‘Access to Public Records’ in Richard A. Chapman and Michael Hunt (eds), Open Government, Croom Helm, London, 1987.Google Scholar
  7. 21.
    Knoppers (1980–81): ‘Records Management in Canada: Freedom of Information and Privacy’, Parts I and II: by Dr Jake V. Th. Knoppers,Records Management Quarterly, October 1980 and April 1981.Google Scholar
  8. 23.
    Korner (1982): Health Services Information Steering Group: NHS and DHSS First Report to the Secretary of State (The Korner Report), HMSO, London, 1982. Fairey (1983): ‘The Korner Report and its implementation’, M. J. Fairey, Hospital & Health Services Review, July 1983. Menhennet (1982): ‘“Polis” in Parliament: computer-based information retrieval in the House of Commons Library’, David Menhennet and Jane Wainwright, Journal of Documentation, 38(2), June 1982.Google Scholar
  9. 25.
    CSD (1979): Disclosure of Official Information: A Report on Overseas Practice, Civil Service Department, HMSO, London, 1979.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Constitutional Reform Centre 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Cornford

There are no affiliations available

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