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« Science and power | Main | What's your view? »
Sunday
Apr122015

Diary date - FOI tribunal edition

This is a guest post by David Holland

At 10 am On Friday 17 April, in Northampton, I have the dubious pleasure of squaring up for the second time against the Met Office over Zero Order Drafts of an IPCC Assessment Report. I am no Perry Mason and the hearing was not my idea, so I am not recommending that anyone turn up for a stellar performance from me. But if anyone in the area is contemplating an appeal of an FOI decision, it is an opportunity to see an oral hearing.

As you may know at the first oral contest with the Met Office, over the seven AR5 ZODs that had not been leaked, I lost. However, in its decision the Tribunal made it clear that, had AR5 been published at the time of my request, it may well have decided differently. So, at the suggestion of a BH reader, I asked for the 10-year-old ZODs of AR4. After all, the first serious FOI request that I made was for John Mitchell's AR4 emails. However, as I described in February, the AR4 emails were refused, relying on a document entitled...

Working Group I Position on Confidentiality of Draft Reports, Other Documents and Communications

As I mentioned in February, the Met Office took great exception to my response to the witness statement of Peter Stott and insisted on an oral hearing. I think it might be thought discourteous of me to say too much about what I plan to say, but I think I can mention a couple of things that are published by the Met Office at WhatDoTheyKnow.com, in response to a separate FOI request for relevant documents that ought to have been disclosed.

The first of the 37 pages disclosed is very interesting. A week after Candidate Stocker got his confidentiality decision at the May 2011 33rd IPCC Session he (I assume) sent this redacted email to (or a copy found its way to) the Met Office. He wrote:

The IPCC Panel decisions that I referred to in our recent phone conversations have now been placed on the IPCC web site. At its plenary session in Abu Dhabi last week, the IPCC adopted a decision that puts into words its standard practice concerning the confidentiality of draft reports. There was a proposal to go further and also explicitly refer to emails and other documentation produced during the drafting, which had quite a lot of support, but those words were not included in the final decision which reads as follows:

He then copied the decision exactly as it appears on page 16 of the report of the 33rd IPCC Session. However, I wondered just how he might have known that there was quite a lot of support among delegates for a much extended decision. I found the answer on page 54 of the IPCC session report where his name appeared with an "H" alongside it. This addition is explained on page 46, where candidate Stocker was revealed as the Head of the two-man Swiss delegation, (presumably) authorised to speak and vote for Switzerland. We may well see more of him!

Another document was identified by the release. It is on the WGII website and gives its take on the IPCC confidentiality decision. It includes position - helpful and somewhat contradictory to WGI - on confidentiality of drafts:

The IPCC does not publicly release drafts prior to the completion of a report because the contents of the early drafts may not meet the IPCC's high standards of excellence, balance, and clarity. Therefore, reviewers and authors are asked not to cite, post, or share drafts. These early drafts are not confidential in the sense that they are hidden, protected, or secret.

I should mention that while the Tribunal should be open to the public, the location is normally used for mundane Tribunals and I have no idea how much space is reserved for the public. St. Katharine's Street is a short walk from the railway and bus stations. I must also say that I am unlikely to be able to respond at any length until after the hearing, as I still have a lot to prepare.

To close on another matter, my communications with the Met Office, which had improved greatly with its latest change in lawyer, came to a halt at about 10am on 1 April. On mentioning it, a week later the Tribunal Clerk, it transpired that the entire Government Legal Department at One Kemble Street was taken out by the Kingsway fire, which may well have started in the ducts under it. It is still closed and I was asked to forward emails that the Government Secure intranet (GSi) seemed to have lost track of.

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Reader Comments (15)

"the Kingsway fire, which may well have started in the ducts under it"

Spontaneous combustion of a large pile of discarded FOI requests, no doubt...

Good luck with the enterprise, DH - and much kudos for your tenacity. Hold their feet to the, er, fire!

Apr 13, 2015 at 9:51 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

... it transpired that the entire Government Legal Department at One Kemble Street was taken out by the Kingsway fire, which may well have started in the ducts under it. It is still closed and I was asked to forward emails that the Government Secure intranet (GSi) seemed to have lost track of.

I am sure that we will all be relieved to learn that when it comes to IT security the performance of the British Civil Service reaches the same high standards that we have come to expect of it in other fields!

Apr 13, 2015 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Is it in Sol House, David?

Apr 13, 2015 at 11:20 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

1. Fires, and other disasters, are a great way of losing things, that might have been inconvenient.

2. They also allow "a fresh re-evaluation of the available evidence", which sometimes translates as a bit of a U-Turn, without blame attribution.

3. When historic Government or Police files mysteriously go missing, it is too easy to say "cover-up". A good disaster allows you to go Straight to Step 1, then 2, without collecting P45's.

Apr 13, 2015 at 11:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

Its good to see that Sir Humphrey lives on.

Apr 13, 2015 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveR

Michael,

It's at:

St. Katharine's House
21-27 St. Katharine's Street
Northampton
Northamptonshire
NN1 2LH

Click the link in the first line of the post for a picture of the building.

Apr 13, 2015 at 12:21 PM | Registered CommenterDavid Holland

Keep doing well, David.
It is a matter of fundamental importance.
Geoffl

Apr 13, 2015 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

Thanks David. I may be able to make it.

Apr 13, 2015 at 12:41 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Its funny how this ,most important event ever ' where the science is 'settled ' need to use industrial scale levels of smoke and mirrors to hide from the people the proof of how important and settled this issue really is.

Apr 13, 2015 at 1:00 PM | Unregistered Commenterknr

David,

Huge respect for you and your drive in opening up government decision making to the public.

It's exactly people like you that keep Governments honest!

Best of luck with your hearing.

Regards

Mailman

Apr 13, 2015 at 1:49 PM | Unregistered Commentermailman

Good luck David

Apr 13, 2015 at 1:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeilC

Good luck David,

Our society desperately needs people like yourself, people who are prepared to selflessly dedicate their time and energy to hold the bureaucracy and the backroom agenda developers to account. Regardless of the outcome you are owed a huge vote of thanks from many who are not, and likely never will be, aware of what you do.

Apr 13, 2015 at 6:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Singleton

May I echo "mailman's" sentiments 1:49pm - I imagine this FOI game is not cheap (let alone the time expended) and wonder if there is any way in which people may contribute towards costs etc?

Apr 13, 2015 at 9:44 PM | Unregistered Commenterjohnbuk

"... the IPCC's high standards of excellence, balance, and clarity."

The irony is too rich to pass over in silence.

Apr 14, 2015 at 1:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterPat Frank

John,

Whose cost? I would not be doing this if cost me much. As the hearing is in my home town it only costs me the parking. For the taxpayer I am very sorry. It must be costing four figures if not five. But I think most BH readers will agree that only by forcing disclosures will we see and end to waste of taxpayers money on mad climate policy.

David

Apr 14, 2015 at 2:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Holland

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