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Information - to reveal it or to conceal it


Compromise Agreements

FoI/DP Gagging Clauses



Wirral In It Together

Paul’s Freedom of Information Blog


The Information Commissioner


A UK Council set out to block my access to personal data and information... which lasted for 20 months. Why?

My name is Paul Cardin. Welcome to my site.  I’m a campaigner for open government and run the company Easy Virtual Assistance.  I’ve been moved to act in the area of Freedom of Information and have made enquiries of all English Local Authorities through the WhatDoTheyKnow website. This very nearly resulted in legal action.  My recent questions were centred around...

These are the controversial ‘full and final settlements’ often engaged in by organisations when the bond of trust between employer and employee has broken down. As was seen in the case of phone hacker Glen Mulcaire, their use encourages a culture of secrecy, can conceal criminal behaviour, and serves to undermine openness and transparency. They do have their place in business-related or commercially sensitive areas, but are often used as a first resort, to cover a multitude of sins and to manage an organisation’s reputation, regardless of the personal consequences. They can be and ARE being used to protect offending managers within dysfunctional public bodies. Brighton & Hove Council has issued 123 in the last six years - all in dispute / grievance / dignity at work / investigation circumstances

These are dubious passages written into compromise agreements, used to silence former employees.


Within the NHS, managers are continuing to threaten staff, and to fail patients and their families, before concealing unlawful / immoral conduct with gagging clauses - despite the circular HSC 1999/198 “outlawing” them over a decade ago.


In the situation described here, both Cheshire West and Chester Council and Brent Borough Council have been pursuing a different line of attack. They’ve used a novel approach which deters ex-employees from exercising their future statutory Freedom of Information and Data Protection querying rights.  


According to the ICO, this is likely to breach the FOI Act - because the only permitted bar to releasing data is an exemption, written into the Act.


In early 2011, I secured legal backing suggesting that the clauses are unlawful. Litigation WAS underway against Cheshire West and Chester Council until they caved in in late June.  BUT - they’re fully prepared to use it again with existing employees in the future.


A ban remains in force on an unknown ex-employee of Brent Council, where the compromise agreement in place (hidden from public view) serves to conceal the existence of the gag.


So far, only two such gagging clauses have been discovered, which were implemented by the following councils.  Click on the links to see the original WhatDoTheyKnow queries:


Cheshire West and Chester Council


Brent Borough Council


It is possible, if unlikely, that some more will be ‘shaken out’ as the ICO work their way through a number of outstanding appeals.

Heather Brooke

The Campaign for Freedom of Information

Panopticon Information Law


Humane Resources
The truth about the ‘National Bullying Helpline’

ActNowTraining - FOI / DP courses

Following Cheshire West and Chester Council’s capitulation, my case for legal action has now subsided.


Hugh Tomlinson QC incisively summarised the merits of my approach, quickly seeing the council off, and exposing their FOI / DP gagging clause as hideously misconceived.


Still defiant however, Simon Goacher, the council’s legal head continues to insist the action was “lawful”.  But public opinion and that of leading counsel, makes the opposite case.


That use of the clause is in reality, unlawful.



The Information Commissioner has confirmed that the practice of seeking to impose a ‘ban’ on FoI and DP does not breach either Act. However, no breach is committed because the recipient of the 'ban' will not make an FoI or DP request for fear of being pursued through the courts by the ex-employer.


The recipient of the 'ban' would need to make a request, have it turned down by the data controller quoting the 'ban' as the justification for withholding information.  The ICO would then step in, because its own opinion is that the only means of withholding data is through one of the exemptions written into the Act.


However, all that said, there is a loophole waiting to be exploited here. Public bodies, sitting on a pile of 'dirty linen' which they don't want to hang out in public, could use this tactic as an ongoing and effective means of concealment.


Whistleblowers need protection, but here, employers have reason to feel encouraged, and to continue behaving immorally or unlawfully - because they have a handy means of covering up.


The Acts need to be tightened or a judicial review sought to prevent this happening.


The current unhappy situation enables public bodies to claim a commitment to openness and transparency, whilst breaching their own internal data and information policies and also the spirit of the Freedom of Information and Data Protection Acts.







How the heavy hand was lifted




In June 2011, Hugh Tomlinson QC provided his opinion on the the removal of my statutory querying rights by Cheshire West and Chester Council.  He also included the potential implications for any public body / data controller of seeking to impose a similar restriction in the future.


Link to the full opinion here

Stop Press: The Hugh Tomlinson opinion is released...