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Minutes of Whitehall committees that decided on introducing MMR should be fully disclosed, the information commissioner ruled in a decision backing the FOIA Centre.
The decision marks a significant victory for the freedom of information act (FOIA) in holding government departments to account for their actions.
It undermines the government’s attempt to shield decision-making in all departments from scrutiny on the grounds that it would hamper internal discussions.
In his ruling, the information commissioner, Rich-ard Thomas, says: “Some of the controversy surrounding national immunisation policy has been fed by a perceived lack of transparency.”
“Knowing who said what, and whose opinions were taken into account is… an important factor towards openness, accountability and transparency.”
The department of health (DoH) had disclosed redacted versions of the minutes in response to three separate requests by the FOIA Centre acting on behalf of a parent of one child allegedly seriously harmed by the MMR triple vaccination.
This enabled us to reveal two years ago how Britain used a version of MMR, containing the Urabe strain of mumps, even though health officials knew of problems with it in other countries. It causes encephalitis-type conditions, including meningitis, in some cases. The revelations prompted wide media coverage.
We had obtained under FOIA redacted versions of several meetings held by three separate Whitehall committees that recommended the introduction of the UK measles-mumps-rubella programme in 1988, and, subsequently, the withdrawal of Urabe MMR in 1992. Urabe MMR made up 85% of the triple-vaccine injections for that initial four-year period.
We also disclosed how parliament was misled over the safety of the Urabe MMR.
After an investigation by the office of the inform-ation commissioner lasting two years, it issued its decision, ordering the DoH to disclose all the minutes fully to us by January 26. The department could lodge by that date an appeal to the information tribunal.
Families in a group claim in the high court for damages on behalf of children allegedly damaged by the MMR triple vaccination collapsed a year ago because the withdrawal of legal aid.
Documents on MMR were obtained by the FOIA Centre acting on behalf of one of the parents of a child in the group litigation against various pharmaceutical companies.
This is a break-through ruling made by the information commissioner in his role as the FOIA watchdog.
Public bodies have jealously guarded information that would enable full accountability for those responsible for taking important policy decisions. The decision on introducing MMR in the UK is a prime example.
The public has a right to know who said what in the deliberations that led to the implementation of that policy.
We believe that the information commissioner’s emphatic decision, rejecting each and every attempt by the government to redact important details, is as significant a victory for freedom of information in the UK as the ruling on MPs’ expenses.