Jersey is fighting to keep all correspondence with the UK parliament secret in a landmark legal battle triggered by a controversial ex-Guernsey politician.
Guernseyman Tony Webber is pushing the UK Home Office for the release of correspondence relating to the islands’ discussions over how to handle the Syrian refugee crisis.
But Jersey States officials are warning that doing so could set a “dangerous precedent” by giving members of the public the right to an eye over all of their “sensitive” discussions with parliament.
They fear that this could jeopardise negotiations, like Brexit, in future.
Pictured: States officials are worried about their Brexit negotiations being jeopardised through the release of correspondence with the UK.
Mr Webber first made his request under the UK Freedom of Information Law in 2016 in order to gain correspondence relating to whether Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man should take part in a refugee relocation scheme.
The UK Information Rights Tribunal ruled in favour of disclosure, leading States officials – and other Crown Dependency representatives – to push the UK Home Office to appeal in August.
Last week, the UK Immigration Minister agreed to appeal.
In an explanatory letter from External Relations Minister Ian Gorst sent to all States Members, he said that much of the island’s deliberations over the Syrian refugee question was already in the public domain.
Pictured: External Relations Minister, Senator Ian Gorst.
The key concern, he argued, was the precedent it could set for releasing other correspondence with the UK.
Senator Gorst wrote: “…The Tribunal had applied the public interest test as if the information related purely to a domestic UK matter, and treated the exchanges as analogous to communications between UK Government and local authorities.
“Our view is that this is not acceptable, and could lead to a dangerous precedent in future FOIA [Freedom of Information] decisions. Communications between UK Government and the CDs [Crown Dependencies] are of a different nature and different considerations should apply when considering the public interest test. Clearly the CDs are not analogous to local authorities, as indeed the UK Information Commissioner’s own guidance makes clear.
“Due consideration should have been given to the public interest test… which provides an exemption from the release of information if it would be prejudicial to international relations i.e. relations with a territory outside of the UK.”
He added that Jersey’s government, alongside Guernsey and the Isle of Man, considered the issue of “the utmost importance given the sensitivity of discussions between national governments, particularly in view of Brexit.”
“A precedent whereby an incorrect exemption has been applied in respect of the CDs could be extremely damaging in other circumstances, and risk undermining our current approach to free and frank correspondence with the UK.”
It is unknown at this stage whether the States of Jersey will play an active role in the eventual appeal, in which the UK Home Office is the key respondent.
Express has contacted the States for comment and is awaiting a response.
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