External Relations Minister's meetings February to May 2022 (FOI)
External Relations Minister's meetings February to May 2022 (FOI)Produced by the Freedom of Information office
Authored by Government of Jersey and published on 02 March 2023.
Prepared internally, no external costs.
Please provide detailed information about meetings, including the names of individuals and organisations and the purpose of those meetings, attended by then-External Ian Gorst between 1 February 2022 and 1 May 2022. Please include any agenda items, notes, and other relevant documents.
Please see extracted information attached. Names of individuals attending the meetings is exempt under Article 25 (Personal information) of the Freedom of Information (Jersey) Law 2011.
As the request specifically asks for `individuals' and `organisations' any meetings held, e.g., States Assembly, States Members, Ministerial, staff meetings, press conferences and personal appointments have been excluded.
Only scheduled meetings are recorded in the Minister’s calendar. Information on the purpose or what may have been discussed at the meetings the External Relations Minister has attended, other than the title, where provided, is not held.
It should be noted that not all of the meetings the Minister has attended would have had agendas or alternatively they were handed out on the day and are not held. As any agendas, notes or other relevant documents are not held centrally, it has been estimated that to undertake a review to establish if any further information is held would exceed the time cost limit under the Freedom of Information (Jersey) Law 2011. Article 16 of the Freedom of Information (Jersey) Law 2011 has been applied.
Entries have also been excluded where a calendar entry related to meetings which are exempt from release under the following Articles of the Freedom of Information (Jersey) Law 2011:
- Article 33 (Commercial Interests)
- Article 35 (Formulation and development of policies)
- Article 41 (International relations)
Many other meetings and discussions happen on a regular basis (which are not scheduled) in order to deal with issues as they arise. No information is held in respect of such instances.
Meetings 1 February to 1 May 2022.xlsx
Article 3 - Meaning of “information held by a public authority”
For the purposes of this Law, information is held by a public authority if –
(a) it is held by the authority, otherwise than on behalf of another person; or
(b) it is held by another person on behalf of the authority.
Article 16 - A scheduled public authority may refuse to supply information if cost excessive
(1) A scheduled public authority that has been requested to supply information may refuse to supply the information if it estimates that the cost of doing so would exceed an amount determined in the manner prescribed by Regulations.
(2) Despite paragraph (1), a scheduled public authority may still supply the information requested on payment to it of a fee determined by the authority in the manner prescribed by Regulations for the purposes of this Article.
(3) Regulations may provide that, in such circumstances as the Regulations prescribe, if two or more requests for information are made to a scheduled public authority –
(a) by one person; or
Article 25 - Personal information
(1) Information is absolutely exempt information if it constitutes personal data of which the applicant is the data subject as defined in the Data Protection (Jersey) Law 2005.
(2) Information is absolutely exempt information if –
(a) it constitutes personal data of which the applicant is not the data subject as defined in the Data Protection (Jersey) Law 2005; and
(b) its supply to a member of the public would contravene any of the data protection principles, as defined in that Law.
3) In determining for the purposes of this Article whether the lawfulness principle in Article 8(1)(a) of the Data Protection (Jersey) Law 2018 would be contravened by the disclosure of information, paragraph 5(1) of Schedule 2 to that Law (legitimate interests) is to be read as if sub-paragraph (b) (which disapplies the provision where the controller is a public authority) were omitted.
Article 33 - Commercial interests
Information is qualified exempt information if –
(a) it constitutes a trade secret; or
(b) its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of a person (including the scheduled public authority holding the information).
Public Interest Test
Article 33 is a prejudice-based exemption. That means that in order to engage this exemption there must be a likelihood that disclosure would cause prejudice to the interest that the exemption protects. In addition, this is a qualified exemption and consideration must be given to the public interest in maintaining the exemption.
The Scheduled Public Authority considers that information withheld from release under Article 33 could prejudice the commercial interests of the Government of Jersey and/or third parties. There may be public interest in the commercial information however it was considered that this is outweighed by the potential for commercial and/or financial damage.
Article 35 - Formulation and development of policies
Information is qualified exempt information if it relates to the formulation or development of any proposed policy by a public authority.
Public Interest Test
Article 35 is a qualified exemption, which means that a public interest test has to be undertaken to examine the circumstances of the case and decide whether, on balance, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.
Although there is a need for transparency, accountability, financial and good decision making by public authorities this information relates to an ongoing situation. The Scheduled Public Authority, and indeed good government, requires Ministers to be provided with full, frank advice from officials about the possible impact of proposed policy, and for Ministers and officials to be able to discuss and test those proposed policies in a comprehensive way.
The following considerations were taken into account:
Public interest considerations favouring disclosure:
- disclosure of the information would support transparency and promote accountability to the general public.
- disclosure to the public fulfils an educative role about the early stages in policy development and illustrates how the department engages with parties for this purpose
Public interest considerations favouring withholding the information:
- in order to best develop policy, Officers and Ministers need a safe space in which free and frank discussion can take place. The need for this safe space is considered at its greatest during the live stages of a policy. Sharing views is important to ensure that all relevant considerations are taken into account in developing and implementing policy. Disclosure at a time when these views are still being considered would negatively impact the Department's ability to fully consider the information
- the need for this safe space is considered at its greatest during the live stages of a policy
- release of the information at this stage might generate misinformed debate in areas where future options have yet to be finalised. This would affect the ability of officials to consider and develop policy away from external pressures, and to advise Ministers appropriately
- disclosure of this information may limit the willingness of parties to provide their honest views and feedback in future. This would hamper and harm the policy–making process not only in relation to this subject area but in respect of future policy development across wider Departmental business.
Taking into account the various factors, the Scheduled Public Authority decided in favour of withholding the redacted information.
Article 41 - International relations
(1) Information is qualified exempt information if its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice relations between Jersey and –
(a) the United Kingdom;
(b) a State other than Jersey;
(c) an international organization; or
(d) an international court.
(2) Information is qualified exempt information if its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice –
(a) any Jersey interests abroad; or
(b) the promotion or protection by Jersey of any such interest.
(3) Information is also qualified exempt information if it is confidential information obtained from –
(a) a State other than Jersey;
(b) an international organization; or
(c) an international court.
(4) In this Article, information obtained from a State, organization or court is confidential while –
(a) the terms on which it was obtained require it to be held in confidence; or
(b) the circumstances in which it was obtained make it reasonable for the State, organization or court to expect that it will be so held.
(5) In this Article –
“international court” means an international court that is not an international organization and that was established –
(a) by a resolution of an international organization of which the United Kingdom is a member; or
(b) by an international agreement to which the United Kingdom was a party;
“international organization” means an international organization whose members include any two or more States, or any organ of such an organization;
“State” includes the government of a State and any organ of its government, and references to a State other than Jersey include references to a territory for whose external relations the United Kingdom is formally responsible.
Public Interest Test
The public interest in respect of Article 41 is weighted in favour of maintaining the exemption unless equally strong countervailing public interest arguments favour the disclosure of the information. It is recognised that there is a public interest in providing transparency about the island's network of international agreements. However, having considered the public interest, the Scheduled Public Authority concluded that the public interest in disclosing this information at this time is outweighed by the public interest considerations in withholding the information, in support of the Island's interests and to avoid any potential prejudice to the Island's relationship with the United Kingdom and other jurisdictions.
Internal Review Request
I am requesting a review of the aboveFOI response.
Based on Jersey's FOI laws, the response falls short of the legally mandated transparency requirements. This response was delayed multiple times for no legitimate reason, and your office decided to instead restrict the disclosure of information to the public and the media, despite the overwhelming public interest.
There are substantial deficiencies in your response, including:
The exact dates when the meetings occurred were not disclosed.
You did not disclose and instead redacted the names of people Mr Ian Gorst met, including MPs and Lords.
Please note, in relation to the second point; this is a grave abuse of your authority as most of these meetings were politician-to-politician meetings and do not fit under the "personal information" exemption. You cannot redact MP and Lord names.
I request an urgent review of these responses. Please note I am requesting an expedited review of this as you have employed unnecessary and legally-dubious delay and redaction tactics that delayed the response by many weeks.
Internal Review Response
This review has been completed by two senior staff members of the Government of Jersey, independent of the original decision-making process.
The original response has been reviewed and assessed to identify whether the application of the exemptions had been applied correctly and whether it was appropriate to withhold information.
The Panel noted that whereas the dates of meetings were not explicitly requested originally, that these could be provided and are included on the attached revised spreadsheet.
In respect of the release of MPs and Lords names, it was considered that the original response could have made clearer that these were withheld under Article 41 of the Freedom of Information (Jersey) Law 2011.
Names of Jersey politicians and those of senior Government of Jersey employees have also been provided. Employee names constitute their personal data. Government of Jersey employees below Tier 1 and Tier 2 are protected from identification for the purposes of Freedom of Information disclosure, and therefore, Article 25 of the Freedom of Information (Jersey) Law 2011 has been applied.
MER Meetings on-island 1 February to 1 May 2022.xlsx
With regard to the timeframe in which the response was issued, it was noted that under Article 2 of the Freedom of Information (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Jersey)Regulations 2014 it states:
For the purposes of Article 13(2)(b) of the Law the period prescribed is such period as is reasonable in all the circumstances of the case, not exceeding 65 working days following the day on which the scheduled public authority received the request.
Therefore, the reference to the delay in responding as being “legally-dubious” was not considered further.
A high level of consideration, and resulting application of redactions, must be made when releasing any personal data to ensure compliance with the Data Protection (Jersey) Law 2018 is maintained.
The Panel’s conclusion is therefore that the necessary application of exemptions has been applied and the original decision is upheld; albeit with the inclusion of the dates of meetings, together with two further meetings which, when reviewed further, were found to not have been included originally; as well as the names of attendees, where held and which where releasable under the Freedom of Information (Jersey) Law 2011.