FCNM draft report and FOI Act Request for Information. (3)

   
Letter to Mr Hartig, Mr Korkeakivii and Ms Jurado of the Council of Europe - 09 January 2007

Dear Mr Hartig, Mr Korkeakivii and Ms Jurado

I am forwarding a copy of an e-mail exchange between myself and the Home Office, in London, in regard to a recent Freedom of Information Act (2000) request for information in respect to the UK government's decision-making process regarding its responsibilities to the Council of Europe under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

My request for information was sent only a few days before the Home Office sent interested parties copies of its very belated draft UK Compliance Report, only just over one week before the Christmas/New Year break. After an unacceptable three year wait, NGOs have now been given very limited time, at a very busy time of year, to prepare their criticisms which must be submitted to the department before 20 January 2007. In what appears, on the face of it, to be a bizarre twist, the Home Office is stating that some aspects of correspondence, copies of which I have requested, are considered to be exempt information under the Freedom Of Information Act 2000, (FOI Act), and there is a public interest issue that needs to be considered before this information can be released to me, or not. Even if this information will be forthcoming, it won't be available to me until after the 20 January deadline for NGO comment on the government's draft UK Compliance Report.

Messrs Hartig and Korkeakivii will be familiar with some of the constitutional issues involved in the Cornish dilemma as I have acquainted them with certain aspects of it the last couple of times that I visited Strasbourg, in early 2006. That having been said, in so far as the UK draft Report is concerned, the Cornish are the only group specifically mentioned in the report as not being covered by the Convention.

In the next few days, I intend to complete my shadow report and will be sending copies of it to the Council of Europe.

In the meantime, I would like to offer my personal observations on the seemingly bizarre position of the Home Office.

The Duke of Cornwall currently in English Law has " the right to control or otherwise intervene in proceedings affecting its (his) rights, property or profits”. (Crown Proceedings Act 1947, Section 40, 2g ). "

Furthermore, Section 37 of the FOI Act (2000), not mentioned in Mr Naysmith's e-mail, contains the following provision on exempt information:

1) Information is exempt if it relates to - a) communications with Her Majesty, with other members of the Royal Family or with the Royal Household, or b) the conferring by the Crown of any honour or dignity.

2) The duty to confirm or deny does not arise in relation to information which is (or if it were held by the public authority would be) exempt information by subsection 1).

The Duke of Cornwall derives his income wholly from his Duchy of Cornwall estate established and maintained under unamended feudal laws that many Cornish people feel discriminate against them directly and indirectly. This is essentially the basis of a case currently logged in the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr Naysmith gives the reasons for qualified exemption under Sections 35 and 36 of the FOI Act and these, together with Section 37, are available online at;

http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2000/00036--g.htm

I am certain that Mr Naysmith will have honestly answered my question 5), which was worded quite specifically. Nevertheless, although I am sure that a member of the Royal Family such as the Duke of Cornwall, would not personally communicate with Mr Naysmith directly in regard to the Framework Convention, it is possible that a Minister of the Crown at HM Treasury, the government department with responsibility for the financial affairs of the Duchy of Cornwall, could have done so on his behalf. It is perfectly reasonable to conclude, bearing in mind both the Duke's right under the Crown Proceedings Act and Sections 35 -37 of the FOI Act, that the Duke has indirectly intervened in, or is controlling, this process to protect his rights, property or profits. It could be that the paper trail that supports this assertion is that which is now being considered under the Freedom of Information Act public interest test, and the formulation of the government's policy on national minorities and the Council of Europe's Framework Convention is as a consequence a state secret!

Whether my hypothesis is right or wrong, the fact remains is that I, a member of an ethnic minority, potentially adversely affected by a proposed government decision to exclude my minority from the protection afforded by the Framework Convention, cannot obtain information relating to the decision-making process. That this matter relates to the government's commitments to its public responsibilities towards an international human rights institution is, frankly, shocking.

If I, a mere individual, cannot obtain this information, and since it clearly cannot be an issue of national security, I would respectfully ask the Council of Europe to advise me on what steps to take next.

 

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