The National Archives has launched an online consultation on planned changes to the thirty year rule which governs the availability of public records to researchers. Anyone interested can contribute here.
The rationale for the changes was outlined by Gordon Brown in his speech on liberty in October:
It is an irony that the information that can be made available on
request on current events and current decisions is still withheld as a
matter of course for similar events and similar decisions that happened
20 or 25 years ago.
Under the present arrangements historical
records are transferred to the national archives and are only opened to
public access after thirty years or where explicitly requested under
the FoI Act. It is time to look again at whether historical records can
be made available for public inspection much more swiftly than under
the current arrangements.
Smearing the victim is all too common in deaths in custody cases, and it's about time somebody was held accountable, so I agree with those who say that Ian Blair should resign over the death of Jean Charles De Menezes.
At 9.33 De Menezes left the flats through the communal door. There
was no way for officers to tell from which flat he came. In fact he had
left flat 17, which was not the suspect address.
officer seconded from the SAS was relieving himself as De Menezes left.
He was codenamed Frank and radioed in to the control room at Scotland
Yard. He said he could not tell whether the person was Osman, but
correctly identified him as white and as not carrying anything. He
said: "It might be worth somebody else having a look." (Vikram Dodd, The Guardian)
Dodd's piece points to a remarkable number of questions that are still unanswered about the De Menezes case, many of which are also raised by Alex Harrowell:
The first thing that strikes me about this is that we still don't know
quite a few interesting things about the decisions that led up to the
shooting; for example, why the firearms squad took so long to rock up,
who was responsible for the briefing they received, which appears to
have been little else than an aggression-building pep talk, or who
actually decided to call off the stop outside the tube station. (Yorkshire Ranter)
Yesterday's Sunday Express carried what it claims is a picture of a soldier from the Special Reconnaissance Regiment outside De Menezes' flat in Tulse Hill.
The Sunday Express may not be the most credible paper just now, but its worth remembering that, according to Peter Taylor's Panorama documentary, an undercover soldier was the first person to see De Menezes leaving the flat, and supposedly got no positive identification or video footage because he was answering a call of nature. Taylor's description implies a member of the SRR. As ever, there seems to be a lot of confusion/overlap between them and the SAS.
One hopes that the MPA will now move on and ask some of the questions I tried to raise with the MOD last year. Up to now the complete lack of accountability concerning the Army's role has been remarkable.
I finally got around to watching Martin Scorsese's The Departed the other day, an excellent film that raises some interesting questions about the role of informers in modern policing.
In some ways The Departed resembles a Cold War spy thriller as much as a gangster flick. It points up the fact that every informer is potentially a double agent, capable of manipulating those he is supposed to be giving information to as much as those he is informing on.
The PSNI was one of the seven forces which refused the BBC's request, and the recent history of Northern Ireland provides perhaps the best illustration of the range of issues that can arise from the use of informers.
The Pat Finucane Centre has obtained an FOI copy of the British Army's own analysis of it's role during the Troubles, available here.
Loyalist violence and the links between loyalist paramilitaries and
the state has been airbrushed out of this military history, prepared
'under the Direction of the Chief of the General Staff'. In 2006, when
the document was written, the CGS was General Mike Jackson who drew up
the notorious 'shot list' in the hours after Bloody Sunday.
The British Government has long sought to portray its role here as
that of the neutral broker, the referee between two warring factions.
This document, which was not intended to be made public, makes no such
pretence. According to the MoD there was only one war and one enemy -
the IRA. Loyalist paramilitaries on the other hand were 'respectable'.
This deeply flawed document is powerful evidence of why we need to deal with the past honestly and openly. (PFC statement)
There are a number of key passages in this document that are worth highlighting:
The Government recognises the importance of public participation and
understanding of the functions of Government. The intention of the
changes proposed is not to hinder legitimate requests for information
or to reduce the effectiveness of the Act. An independent review
commissioned by the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs to
look at the impact of the Freedom of Information Act showed that a
small minority of requests and a small minority of requestors account
for disproportionate amounts of the cost of answering FOI requests. The
proposals are designed to address this issue and to ensure public
authorities can balance access to information for all with the delivery
of other public services.
On 14 December 2006 the Secretary of
State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, opened a public
consultation on the draft fee regulations. The Government is keen to
engage as many stakeholders as possible in this consultation. The
consultation paper is available at: http://www.dca.gov.uk/consult/dpr2007/cp2806.htm. Responses should be sent by 8 March 2007 to:
Department for Constitutional Affairs Information Rights Division 6.16 Selborne House 54-60 Victoria Street London SW1E 6QW