Should Dr Malcolm Jack pack a toothbrush?

Dr Malcolm Jack is the Clerk of the House (of Commons), and since 1992 the Clerk of the House is also the Corporate Officer of the House of Commons. The House of Commons appeal to the High Court against the Information Tribunal rulings on various Information Commissioner decision notices relating to MPs’ expenses, particularly the now infamouse Additional Costs Allowance, was made in his name. He is also the person to whom the order of the Information Tribunal is addressed.

Details of MP’s allowances were published on 18 June 2009 online. However, there has been a media frenzy about the amount of redaction on the published information. It should be noted that the Information Tribunal descision sets out what information could be redacted:

(1) Any sensitive personal data, relating to the MPs named in the requests, within the meaning of DPA s2(a), (c) or (e)-(h).
(2) Personal data of third parties (not the MPs). But this exception shall not extend to the name of any person to whom the MP paid rent or mortgage interest which was claimed under ACA.
(3) The MPs’ bank statements, loan statements, credit card statements, other personal financial documents, and financial account numbers and financial reference numbers. This exclusion shall not extend to the names of mortgagees, chargees or landlords in respect of homes for which ACA was claimed, or to the amounts of interest or rent which were paid, claimed and reimbursed under ACA or (subject to the requisite redactions of sensitive or irrelevant data) to the information submitted in support of such claims contained on statements of account with mortgagees, chargees or landlords: these items of information must be disclosed.
(4) The itemised parts of telephone bills listing calls to individual numbers.
(5) The names and addresses of suppliers or contractors who had regular access to the MPs’ homes.
(6) All details relating to the security measures at the MPs’ homes (whether goods or services), save that where an amount has been identified by the MP as relating to security, that reference and the total amount attributed to it shall not be redacted.
(7) Where a particular MP has a special security reason for keeping the address of his or her main or second home confidential (for example, because of a problem with a stalker, or a terrorist or other criminal threat), that address may be redacted.

So what if the original applicants for the MPs’ expenses information consider that the redactions go to far?  It would seem, from a little known unreported case (see our Re Ewing Briefing Note) that the Information Tribunal is a court.  Failure to comply with its orders would be a contempt of court, for which, in the extreme, the court can order imprisonment.  Whilst the procedure in the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is not clear (for example, do the applicants have to complain again to the Information Commissioner under section 50, or can they go direct to the Information Tribunal?), it would appear that Parliament cannot expect its interpretation of what is redactable to be the last word.

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