Falconer: media threatens Freedom of Information

The Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer has outlined his vision for freedom of information, stating: “People, not the press, must be the priority.”

Falconer attacked the media for denying the public access to information due to “fishing expeditions” under the Freedom of Information Act.

At the Lord Williams of Mostyn Memorial Lecture last week, hosted by chambers Farrar’s Building, Falconer said processing the media’s requests had cost the Government around £4m, with the BBC accounting for £1m – money that would have been better spent dealing with public requests.

Falconer went on to say that the current situation in coroners courts needed to be curtailed, as the press can report any of the inquests’ details that it chooses (the only exception being where there are issues of national security), resulting in unnecessary distress for families.

“The Government’s draft Coroners Reform Bill, which we’ve consulted on widely, therefore proposes that the coroner should be able, in certain cases like child deaths and suicides, to impose certain restrictions on what can be reported, namely anonymity,” said Falconer.

However, he felt that other areas should be opened up to the media, albeit with a balance between press intrusion and justice being seen to be done.

It is the latter point that led to the Government proposing that the public should ‘see justice being done’ by broadcasting court proceedings, he said.

“But with a medium as powerful as broadcasting, and most particularly with television, we must ensure that justice would not be damaged by broadcasting,” Falconer added.

He also said the family courts should allow some public access. But, as with the coroners courts, the parties need to be respected.

Falconer told The Lawyer that there needed to be a balance between “confidentiality of court parties and public confidence”, and said this was likely to be reflected in the results of the consultation, which will be out in a matter of weeks.