Supreme Court to rule in BBC Freedom of Information case

The Supreme Court will tomorrow decide whether the BBC is obliged to publish a report on its Middle Eastern coverage under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

Monica Carss-Frisk
Monica Carss-Frisk

The Balen report that is at the centre of the court case was written by senior journalist Malcolm Balen in 2004 and examined closely the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict.

Following its internal publication, members of the public requested that the report be published. The requests were rejected on the grounds that the report fell under derogation of the FOI act. It stated that information held by the BBC is subject to the FOI only if it is held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature.

This prompted Forsters solicitor Steven Sugar to go the Information Commissioner requesting that the decision be overturned and the BBC forced to publish the report.

The case has had a lengthy journey into the Supreme Court and is now being carried forward by Sugar’s widow Fiona Paveley.

Initially Sugar complained to the Information Commissioner, who found that the BBC had correctly applied the act. He then appealed to the Information Tribunal, which reversed the Information Commissioner’s decision.

At the High Court the BBC argued that the tribunal did not have jurisdiction to hear the case and even if it did the outcome was flawed. In October 2009, Mr Justice Irwin ruled in favour of the BBC, with Blackstone Chambers’ Monica Carss-Frisk QC instructed by the BBC’s then head of litigation Sarah Jones. Jones has since been promoted to general counsel by the corporation (12 January 2012).

Forsters instructed Essex Court Chambers’ Tim Eicke QC for the appellant.

A further appeal followed, but the Court of Appeal heavyweight panel made up of the Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger and Lord Justices Moses and Munby also upheld the BBC’s arguments.