Iraq controversy expected as UK govt opens up files
LONDON: Campaigners for public openness in Britain said on Friday they expected “dozens if not hundreds” of requests for information about London’s support for the Iraq war once a new Freedom of Information Act takes effect in the New Year.
The act, which comes into force on January 1, promises a new era of open government in a country where civil servants have traditionally taken the view that the less the public knows about their work the better.
It allows people to apply to find out specific information from a vast range of public bodies, ranging all the way from central goverment to local schools and hospitals. Departments and organisations can claim exemption for certain information, such as that affecting national security or policy formulation, and sceptics have expressed doubt as to how much really will be released.
The act took a full four years after being passed by parliament to be put into effect, and already a row has broken out over claims by opposition politicians that civil servants are busy shredding sensitive papers. Yet the new law still looks set to shine a spotlight into many previously shadowy corners of public life - something eagerly seized upon by politicians and campaigners. Among the most immediate requests expected is a demand to see the legal advice under which the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair decided to back the US-led March 2003 war in Iraq. At the time, Blair insisted that his chief law officer, Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith, had ruled that joining the invasion was permissible under international law.
However, the government refused to give details of this advice, and anti-war activists are expected to apply to have the files on the issue opened up. afp