Remember the Huddersfield Examiner’s great work in exposing the leader of Kirklees Council, who insists on signing off many FOI responses himself? In some cases, proposed responses drawn up by an FOI officer – the council’s expert – were altered and changed by the council leader.
There was an interesting new twist this week. Originally, Kirklees Council found no need to have a look into the fact the council’s most senior politician was signing off FOI requests, despite widespread concern that it went against the spirit of FOI – not so much ‘your right to know’ as ‘your right to know what Cllr Mehboob Khan thinks you should know.’
The council changed tack when it received a complaint about Coun Khan’s actions, and launched an investigation after a sub-committee at the council decided there was a case to answer
The scope of the investigation launched is as follows, according to the council:
The decision notice said: “The allegations suggested that the subject member may have compromised the impartiality of council officers responsible for responding to Freedom of Information requests requiring such officers to amend their responses to FOI requests.
“If such contact were found to have occurred, the subject member may have conducted himself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing his office or Kirklees Council into disrepute.
“The allegations also raise the issue of whether the subject member had used or attempted to use his position as a member improperly to confer on or secure for himself or any other person an advantage or disadvantage.”
So far, yet so hard to get there. And it gets worse. The council, after being asked by the Examiner for A MONTH whether the misconduct hearing will be held in public, has said the whole process will be done in secret.
The council won’t tell the Examiner when the hearing into the allegations will be held, where it will be held or who will be involved.
The council won’t even explain why it’s doing things that way – with the council’s legal boss pulling out of an interview with the Examiner to discuss the issue.
As the Examiner’s leader column noted this week:
When requests are made for Freedom Of Information, people have the right to that information without any interference whatsoever so there is an important principle at stake here.
That’s why it is important any inquiry is conducted in an open manner – or a full explanation as to why it should be held in secret.
That concern is compounded by the fact that the council will not tell us where the hearing will be held – or its date.
In a democratic society this takes us back to the age-old saying, but one which still rings very true today.
Justice must be seen to be done and nothing less than that is acceptable.