An Introduction to Administrative Law

By Peter Cane | Go to book overview

16
Government Secrecy and Freedom of Information

PROTECTION OF SOURCES

As we have seen, one of the concerns underlying the confidentiality argument considered in the previous chapter is a desire not to discourage candour especially within government; another is a desire not to discourage the supply of information, particularly to law-enforcement bodies, by persons who might fear that if their identity were made known they could become victims of reprisals of some sort. Lawenforcement bodies rely heavily on the activities of informers and 'whistleblowers' and the law has taken a protective attitude towards them.

Protecting the anonymity of sources of information is also important for the operation of the media in general and the press in particular: in a free society the media play an important (though unofficial) part in keeping the public informed about the activities of government and in investigating alleged misconduct by government officials. In a system such as the British, where legally authorized access to government information is very restricted, 'leaks' play an important part in communicating information to the public about the activities of government. The informal communication of information to the media is often allowed or even initiated by the government itself. Our concern here is with unauthorized leaks.

Under section 10 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 no court may require the the disclosure of sources of information unless such disclosure is necessary in the interests of justice, or national security, or the prevention of disorder or crime.1 The section requires the court to

____________________
1
The section says that the information must be contained 'in a publication', but it has been held that the section also applies to information supplied for the purpose of being published: X Ltd v Morgan-Grampian (Publishers) Ltd [ 1991] 1 AC 1. The principles contained in s. 10 have also been applied to other situations to which they are not strictly applicable: Re an Inquiry under the Company Securities (Insider Dealing) Act 1985 [ 1988] AC 660.

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