openDemocracyUK

Death-watch beetles

Stuart Weir
2 January 2010

Perhaps I am unreasonably angry and disturbed on learning that academy schools are not open to public scrutiny through the freedom of information law. After all, it is a lapse that hardly measures up to the enormities and misdemeanours of recent executive activity. Academies are not going to bomb and invade other state schools and murder their teachers and pupils, nor will their staff torture their own pupils, not physically anyway. There are laws against such actions.

Yet it is a symptomatic reminder that the fabled 'flexibility' of our governing arrangements - that is, the wide expanse of executive discretion - makes a mockery of principle and due process. One of the great strengths of the new FOI regime - which was much trumpeted at the time of its introduction - was its comprehensive nature. Though with undesirable exceptions, freedom of information was spread right across the public domain. And rightly so - the right of access to public information is a significant part of freedom of expression. It is all to easy for ministers and officials to disregard such considerations and to exempt academies from scrutiny and possibly to plunge other areas of public activity into the dark - to nibble away, like death-watch beetles, within the old and new structures of democracy and constitutionality until they collapse entirely.

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