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Gove loses battle to keep messages secret as ICO rules personal emails are under FoIA

The Independent has reported that Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has been instructed, under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) to release messages sent from his personal email account.

Hitherto, private email accounts have been used by senior ministers and their advisers to ensure the contents cannot be seen by civil servants and to keep them outside the scope of FoIA requests. However, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has decided that the emails were covered by the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act as they concerned Government business.

Government advisors have privately admitted the use of such personal email accounts to discussing sensitive subjects on private emails to combat the risk of Labour-supporting officials leaking the contents. Mr. Gove had been using his wife’s ‘Mrs. Blurt’ email account to discuss governmental issues with advisors, and the Information Commissioner’s ruling centred on a December 2010 email Gove had sent to the private email addresses of two special advisers, as well as a civil servant and MP.

A spokesman for Mr Graham said: “The Commissioner’s decision is that the information amounted to departmental business and so was subject to freedom-of-information laws, being held on behalf of the Department for Education.

“The department is now required either to disclose the requested information – the subject line of the email and the date and time it was sent – or issue a refusal notice in accordance with the FoI Act giving reasons for withholding it.” In a statement yesterday, the Campaign for Freedom of Information said: “The decision closes off two potentially vast loopholes which would have allowed industrial-scale evasion of the FOI Act.

“The Commissioner has made it clear that Government business carried out via private email accounts is subject to FOI – otherwise all departmental business would have switched to Hotmail accounts.”

The Independent reports “the Department for Education has 28 days to lodge an appeal against the decision with the Information Tribunal. A spokesman said it was considering its next step”.

Freedom of Information request reveals dramatic drop in refuge centres for victims of domestic abuse

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) have shown that the government cut funding of refuge centres for abused women by nearly a third last year. The Independent comments: “The sums of money involved are, in governmental terms, tiny” and attacks government for trying “to shrug responsibility for the cuts on to local authorities”.

Next week will see Theresa May announce pilots of “Clare’s Law”, under which women may enquire to the police into whether their partner has a history of domestic violence. But recent changes to legal aid rules will leave nearly half of the victims of domestic violence without the means to bring their abusers to justice.

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