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Key Ministerial covid meeting minutes to be kept locked away

Key Ministerial covid meeting minutes to be kept locked away

Friday 16 April 2021

Key Ministerial covid meeting minutes to be kept locked away

Friday 16 April 2021

The Government is refusing to disclose key documents showing Ministers made health and economic decisions that affected the lives and livelihood of thousands of islanders during the pandemic.

In a heavily delayed response to a request made under the Freedom of Information Law by Express in January, officials this week concluded that releasing minutes of Competent Authority Ministers’ meetings would not be in the public interest as it would compromise their “safe space” in which to make decisions and “reveal potential disagreements on details of policy.”


Pictured: STAC Minutes in January reflected how Ministers didn't consult the panel of medical experts on key covid decisions.

The meeting minutes of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell (STAC) were made public earlier this year a majority of States Members voted in favour of releasing them.

While the expert group has been responsible for advising the Government on its crisis decision-making throughout the pandemic, the final decisions have always rested with ‘Competent Authority Ministers’ (CAM): the Chief Minister, Economic Development Minister, External Relations Minister, Home Affairs Minister, Infrastructure Minister and Health Minister. The Treasury Minister and Education Minister are also occasionally invited to attend meetings.

STAC minutes released in January reflected how this Ministerial group had failed to consult the panel of scientific and medical experts on key covid decisions including the initial guidance on festive gatherings, which was later subject to a U-turn. The lack of consultation left one STAC member questioning the group's purpose.

The documents also revealed the frustrations of the island’s top pandemic medic, Dr Ivan Muscat, and other STAC members that CAM had decided to relax travel restrictions for ‘green zone’ travellers against advice – one of the factors believed to have played a part in the sharp spike in covid cases before the New Year


Pictures: STAC minutes showed Dr Ivan Muscat's frustration that CAM Ministers had decided to relax travel restrictions against green zone travellers.

Following the release of the cache of STAC minutes, Express made an application on 21 January for the CAM minutes from the past year to be released, to provide an insight into Ministers’ thinking at the time of such crucial decisions.

Express also requested minutes of the meetings of the Emergencies Council – Jersey’s equivalent of COBRA – and asked for the full agendas of Council of Ministers’ meetings.

Under the Freedom of Information Law, the Government must endeavour to provide information “no later than the end of the period of 20 working days”.

On 11 February, the Freedom of Information Unit said in an update that the Government was working on the request and “applying redactions where necessary.”

On 10 March, the Unit advised that there had been a delay, with the response then due on 8 April.

This week, around a week after that due date, the Government then confirmed that it would not be releasing any of the requested information – despite having previously been working on doing so in redacted format. 

It said that it had applied a ‘Public Interest Test’, and had identified the following reasons in favour of releasing CAM minutes:

  • “disclosure of the information would support transparency and promote accountability to the general public, providing confirmation that the necessary discussions have taken place 

  • “disclosure to the public fulfils an educative role about the early stages in procedural development and illustrates how the department engages with parties for this purpose.” 

But these were said to be outweighed by other considerations.


Pictured: The Government's response on CAM minutes only gave broad details about discussions, such as the fact they involved "travel and borders."

“The nature of these meetings is confidential, in line with longstanding and fundamental conventions in Jersey… Disclosing the workings and discussions of ministerial committees could reveal potential disagreements on details of policy and even policies themselves which, if made public, would undermine consensus driven decision-making as outlined in the “Code of Conduct and Practise for Ministers and Assistant Ministers” (2018) and hence undermine the working of Government,” the response reasoned.

It continued: “Ministers must be at liberty to express their views frankly and candidly, without the fear of their views being automatically or even potentially reported in public, otherwise they might express their views less vigorously or more circumspectly, or even feel restrained from voicing them at all, for fear that they will be represented in the media, now or in the near- future, in a way that is damaging to either themselves, the government, or the Island. This is especially the case during the “live” development of policy, when a “safe space” within which discussions takes place helps with the formulation of good decisions. 

“It is the case that Ministers in discussions should feel free to raise and examine all options, even those that may feel on subsequent consideration wholly inappropriate, without concern that even raising a matter could open the Minister to censure or criticism.

“The risk, if publication takes place, is that discussion between Ministers (and officials) become stilted and constrained, known as the “chilling effect”, by the knowledge that such discussions could be made public and decision-making would not have the benefit of the full range of freely expressed opinions to inform it.” 

It added that publishing the minutes may also be to the detriment of future record-keeping: “Indeed, discussions might take place increasingly or wholly outside formal recorded meeting, undermining good governance and record-keeping, if minutes of formal meetings are published (and a similar position applies to the publication of agendas, especially during a pandemic, when a “safe space” is crucial).”


Pictured: The reasons given for not releasing the minutes of the CAM discussions, which determine rules affecting islanders, was that Ministers would feel constrained in their conversations with the knowledge they would be made public.

While the Government declined to provide the requested minutes and agendas, it did, however, provide a list of general topics discussed:

“Items discussed at the Competent Authority and Emergencies Council meetings included discussions on legislation and public health guidance, business and community support measures, travel and borders, testing and vaccination programme, operational readiness, including schools and health services, and a range of other issues, including wider strategic public health discussions, as part of the government’s response to the pandemic and in the context of available statistical information.

“Items discussed at the Council of Ministers included preparation for Assembly sittings, and a wide range of policy matters, including the response to the pandemic, environmental and climate policy, including the Island Plan and carbon neutrality, children and education policy, justice policy, health policy, transport policy, migration policy, external relations matters, including Brexit, financial and performance matters, including the Government Plan and the Annual Report, major projects, including the hospital and office accommodation, and a range of operational and risk management matters as part of progressing government business.”

It also said that, following Express’s request, consideration is “currently being given to regular reviews to ascertain the ability to move items to the public `A’ agenda, however no firm decisions have been made and it is not considered reasonable to withhold this response until the outcome of those discussions is known.

“In respect of the Council of Minister’s minutes, A minutes are published, and again, consideration will be given to transferrable items from 2020 to the A minutes by 30th June 2021.”

It concluded that its approach “delivers a reasonable balance, under the Law, between the need for transparency and accountability, and good decision-making by public authorities.”

Express will be challenging this refusal to make Ministerial meeting minutes public.

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Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.

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Posted by Danny Moisan on
you only have something to hide if you won't disclose!!!!
Posted by Tony Bellows on
A translation would be: Releasing minutes of Competent Authority Ministers’ meetings would not be in the public interest as it would compromise their chances of being re-elected in 2022.
Posted by john garner on
Thanks for trying to wring an answer out of them . it would compromise their “safe space”.......they could use this excuse ad nausea ...Defeats the point of having freedom of information requests
Posted by Martin Clarke on
Of course the Incompetent Authority Ministers are not going to release Minutes that prove the greed and avarice of those Ministers that have huge conflicts of interest owing to their directorships and ownership of hospitality businesses.
Posted by SimonBevens28 on
The government of Jersey are being accountable and transparent in World Leading style, as usual.
Posted by Thomas Hunter on
This Government once again shows it is self serving and does not believe in transparency and openness.
Posted by Keith Marsh on
I believe this is the correct decision. Ministers have had to make difficult choices and if their views, in open conversation, were going to be published this could have an effect on their discussion and possibly results of the meeting.
Yes, it is not transparent Government but this time this is warranted.
Posted by Jon Jon on
No surprise,I bet some is interesting reading though,but again elections looming next year!
Posted by tom binet on
Difficult decisions have, indeed, had to be made, but what is wrong with standing by those decisions, if they were taken in good faith? Is that not what good democracy should be about? This incompetent, disingenuous, government has been very economic with the facts (such as they understand them) and displayed poor judgement in many areas. One can only be grateful that the next election is drawing ever closer and the electorate will have the opportunity to consign those in the highest office to permanent retirement from politics.
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