The Law of Unauthorised Disclosures
Chapter 2: The consequences of making an unauthorised disclosure
Secrecy can be used to safeguard national security but it can also be used as a tool to hide deception. Secrecy comes at a price. There is an inevitable imbalance between the executive, who are considered to be best placed to determine risks to national security, and the state who need a degree of access to official information to be informed, active participants in a democratic society. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 was intended to redress the balance. However, the resulting Act is subject to a number of exemptions. Government departments can frustrate the process further by choosing to delay responses. As citizens suffer from the effects of imbalance in the extramural community, Crown servants likewise encounter imbalances in their respective intramural communities. Crown servants in the Civil Service, Armed Forces, police and security and intelligence agencies are subject to Official Secrets Act 1989, section 12. Whilst other Crown servants must seek authorisation to disclose official information, Ministers are self-authorising. All Crown servants undergo some form of security vetting before they can begin employment and access official documents, Ministers are not vetted. The maintenance of secrecy at ministerial level is therefore reliant upon a degree of trust, self-responsibility, and for those with a seat in Cabinet, membership of the Privy Council. This archaic remnant of the United Kingdom’s monarchical system requires an oath of allegiance to the Queen – those in breach of the oath could until 1999 be tried for treason.
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