Fight for Freedom of Information

Guernsey does not have a Freedom of Information Law (FoI). We have a Code of Practice for Public Information, which is voluntary. There is a supposed “presumption in favour of disclosure” rule. Experience suggests, however that this is not observed if the information requested would cause discomfort. The ranks close. A full Freedom of Information Law would prevent this happening by providing a defined right to information, subject to independent interpretation by a judge or Data Protection Commissioner (rather than by a non-independent official), and thereby capable of enforcement.

Jersey and the UK have a proper Freedom of Information Law. A full Freedom of Information Law should be brought into force in Guernsey.

Excuses for not previously doing so have focussed on costs. Whilst “small government” and the minimisation of the costs of government, both those directly charged to citizens and those indirectly caused to them, is of course an important objective, it should not be used as an excuse for not doing what is undoubtedly right for the modern day, but which happens to be inconvenient to the establishment. 

In fact, the ultimate cost of a Freedom of Information Law would likely be lower than the direct costs of its implementation and existence, because that existence would encourage better practice. We believe that previous deterrent scaremongering estimates of the costs of providing information transparency have been greatly overestimated for a small community such as Guernsey, but in any event, if the organisation is in fact operating cleanly, the costs will be reduced; it is merely a question of efficiency. We believe that FoI will pay for itself in practice, because the likelihood of public disclosures would result in more careful decision-making with consequent savings to the public purse, as well as discouraging the questionable use (whether through profligacy or doubtful propriety) of taxpayers’ monies. The real question is: in a modern climate, can Guernsey afford not to have such a Law?

Importantly, though, the system for providing FoI must be reasonably affordable for the applicant. The “free” availability of information is an illusion if the costs of obtaining that information are initially high, or prohibitive in the face of any resistance, and any system for implementing FoI must take account of this. There are methods of dealing with this, such as a sliding scale of fees & we might be well advised to examine Jersey law in this regard, and see how they do it.

We believe that an easy, effective and affordable route for accessing information must be developed and provided, particularly for the aggrieved. It is a vital tool for both the efficiency of a modern system of government, and for promoting the trust of citizens. The case for introducing such a Law going forward is therefore compelling. 

A more difficult question is how far any such Law should have retrospective effect. It might reasonably be feared that unlimited retrospectivity could encourage an avalanche of requests, and expense out of all proportion to any practical benefit. It would be reasonable, therefore, for there to be some form of time limit. However, such limits must be sufficiently liberal or flexible so as to permit applications with regard to matters of continuing effect on the applicant, or which relate to issues of proper conduct in public office. But the correct scope of these qualifying requirements could, and should, in case of dispute, be decided on by the independent judgment of a court or Data Protection Commissioner, and not by an official, and in all cases there would be a presumption in favour of disclosure. It is worth noting that Jersey has implemented retrospective FoI, and that matters are administered by the Data Protection Commissioner.

Only that way will a Freedom of Information Law be able to fulfil its proper function; encouraging transparency and promoting confidence in government. What politician or official could conscientiously object to this?

© 2020, The 2020 Association

Jan Kuttelwasher

Deputy Jan Kuttelwascher

Sadly, recently one of the founders of 2020 and more importantly one of the leading politicians in Guernsey over the last twelve years, Deputy Jan Kuttelwascher died.

 Jan was an extraordinary man who lived an extraordinary and full life.  He still had much to offer and would have been a candidate in the forthcoming election.  We as an organisation are going to miss his wise guidance (and humour) and, even more sadly, so will his family and the population of the Island whom he served so well.

 Jan was born in what was then Czechoslovakia in 1946.  The dark curtain of Communism was coming down in 1948 and the Communists were moving in.  His parents then decided to leave Czechoslovakia and Jan, who was then only two and his sister were sedated and put in the boot of the car whilst the parents made their exit to Germany.  Jan and his family spent the next six months in a refugee camp in Germany. The family then moved to London as Jan’s uncle was already there. Jan’s uncle was the most distinguished of Czech pilots in the Second World War.

 Jan attended school and in London passed the 11 Plus.  He said that was one of the watershed moments of his life.  He went to a Catholic boys’ grammar school. He was outstanding as a student.  He then took up a place at Queen Mary College in the University of London. He was so bright that he graduated for the Special Honours Degree in Physics.  He then engaged in a career for which he was so wonderfully suited. He joined BOAC which later merged with two other State entities to become British Airways.  In his pilot training he had his first connection with Guernsey in that he met Jurat Jerry Girard and they both qualified at the same time.

 Jan was not just a pilot, he was a distinguished pilot, but he also set up an import/export business and he carried out some property development.  Being a former refugee Jan had that restless spirit. He had that enterprise. In 1982 he sold his business and accepted a secondment to Air Mauritius.  At that time that country was a tiny speck in the Indian Ocean. He moved his family there. He flew many of the inaugural routes for that airline and also trained local pilots on the then new 707 aircraft.

 The family returned to the UK in 1986 and he continued his career with British Airways until he retired in 2000, a career which lasted 33 years.  For many of those years he was a CAA Instructor and Examiner. He flew to many destinations a plane known nowadays as the Jumbo Jet.

 His flying career and accomplishments can be described as nothing less than distinguished.

 He and his wife had visited Guernsey on holiday in 1993 and liked the Island so much that they bought a house and effectively moved to Guernsey in early 1994.

 He and his wife took to Island life like a duck to water.  After retirement as a pilot he became a member of the St Peter Port Douzaine and was actively involved in Age Concern.  Since 2008 he has been a Deputy serving the district of St Peter Port South. He did that with integrity, ability and distinction.  He made a vast contribution to the States of Guernsey.

He sat on a number of committees.  He was previously the Deputy Minister for the Treasury and Resources Department and this term he was both Vice-President of Economic Development and later a member of the States Trading Supervisory Board.  In both of those roles he brought his considerable knowledge, not just relating to the Airport and Aviation, but also to so many other topics.

He was a man of the highest integrity and decency and possessed great humour and charm.  He was incisive and tolerant and less than a week before his death at a committee meeting of the 2020 Association he was brimming with ideas and was about to produce some papers on some important topics.

He is going to be remembered much more than just for his sustained and able promotion of the runway extension (which we believe should come to fruition).  He had so many ideas, all liberally laced with common sense, all for the benefit of our community.

He will be sadly missed by his wife, children, grandchildren and wider family, but also by our Association and the people of Guernsey.