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UK Justice Secretary vetoes release of Cabinet discussions on Iraq

[JURIST] British Justice Secretary Jack Straw [official profile] on Tuesday vetoed [materials] a British Information Tribunal [official website] order [JURIST report] for the release of redacted minutes of two Cabinet [official website] discussions from the months prior to the invasion of Iraq [JURIST news archive]. Straw declared [statement of reasons, PDF] that the public interest in keeping Cabinet meetings secret outweighed the benefits of disclosure:

Serious and controversial decisions must be taken with free, frank – even blunt – deliberation between colleagues. Dialogue must be fearless. Ministers must have the confidence to challenge each other in private. They must ensure that decisions have been properly thought through, sounding out all possibilities before committing themselves to a course of action. They must not feel inhibited from advancing opinions that may be unpopular or controversial. They must not be deflected from expressing dissent by the fear that they may be held personally to account for views that are later cast aside. Discussions of this nature will not however take place without a private space in which thoughts can be voiced without fear of reprisal, or publicity.
Straw mentioned several other justifications for the veto, citing substantial policy discussions of an "exceptionally serious" issue which "attracted exceptional media coverage." Critics [Herald report] noted a potential conflict of interest, as Straw supported the invasion and was serving as Foreign Secretary at the time of the meetings.

The veto is the first of its kind under Britain's Freedom of Information Act [text], which took effect [JURIST report] in January 2005, four years after its passage by Parliament. At the time, critics complained about broad exceptions that might prevent the release of highly sought-after documents, including many relating to the war in Iraq.

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