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Tribunal says legal advice must stay private

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A tribunal has ruled that a council need not disclose legal advice that was given to a consultant conducting an inquiry on its behalf, after a request was made under the Freedom of Information Act to disclose this.

The Information Rights Tribunal ruled in a case brought by Wirral MBC against the Information Commissioner that almost all the material concerned could remain confidential.

This overturned the commissioner’s original ruling, although subsequent negotiations with the council had already modified this.

The FoI request concerned advice from law firm DLA Piper to Anna Klonowski, who was investigating a whistleblower’s claims of unlawful charging of recipients of adult social care.

Ms Klonowski reported in January 2012 and called on Wirral to “radically upgrade” its “corporate governance arrangements”.

An LGA improvement board then worked with Wirral until November 2013.

The tribunal said disclosure of some of the information could “give rise to an actionable breach of confidence by DLA against the council”, since the law firm would have expected any advice passed by Ms Klonowski to Wirral to remain private.

“If such a disclosure were permitted under [FoI] in such circumstances, a legal adviser would not be able to advise a client that its advice would remain confidential in the event that the client chooses to share that advice with a third party,” the tribunal said.

“Disclosure of the information would affect the reputation of DLA if it were known that its confidential legal advice would be disclosed under [FoI] in certain circumstances.”

 

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