The Law of Unauthorised Disclosures
Chapter 5: Whistleblowing in the Civil Service
Written in 1985, the aforementioned quote, taken from a memo drafted by Sir Robert Armstrong, neatly encapsulates the relationship between civil servants and their political masters. The relationship is one of trust and loyalty. Civil servants are responsible to Ministers who are reliant upon them to action policies which may otherwise be in direct conflict with their own political persuasions. In return, Ministers are answerable to Parliament and to the electorate for any actions taken by their department, ultimately being prepared to take personal responsibility for the actions of civil servants. The Armstrong Memorandum is of historical significance, drafted in response to the outcome of the Ponting trial; it was aimed at reaffirming the duties that civil servants owed to the Crown. Yet Ponting disclosed information on the location of the Argentinean Cruiser the General Belgrano because he felt that government Ministers had failed to keep up their end of the bargain, by misleading Parliament and the electorate. In those circumstances, the civil servant believed that he had a duty to bring the matter to public attention. The relationship between Ministers and their civil servants remains a delicate one to balance. It may be naive to suggest both actors are locked in a constant power play reminiscent of something satirised in the 1980s sitcom Yes Minister, but leaks of official information regularly occur and may be just as likely to originate from Ministers for political gain as their civil servants. Whilst the spirit of the Armstrong Memorandum still holds true today,
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