Over the last 25 years, there has been a significant movement towards more open government which is largely, but not wholly, attributable to decisions under the European convention on Human Rights" Discuss.

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Open government, in short is the concept that, a government will conduct itself in a transparent and fair manner hence allowing the public to scrutinize its initiatives and decisions.  It is most significant in the domain of state secrecy which is in direct conflict with the concept of open government as it legitimizes the suppression of information from the public domain. The suppression of information is linked to Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights which guarantees the right of free speech and the right to receive and impart with information freely. However Article 10 is not an absolute right and it allows members to the convention the right of derogation where national security and public safety are at risk. The law must therefore provide a means of balancing the individual's right to guard his or her privacy against the public's right to know about matters of general importance. Yet over the past two decades, British governments have been reluctant to create a specific civil obligation to protect personal privacy. It was argued that privacy is too vague a concept for legal protection. But the enactment of the 1998 Human Rights Act has changed this situation. The Act requires that the government respect both the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression, although it leaves it to the courts to decide how the balance should be struck.

The statement raises to main issues which will be the focus of this discussion. First the statement suggests there has been an effort to create a more open government in the United Kingdom over the past two decades. This is evident through the Official Secrets Act which decriminalised the disclosure of once sensitive information. Furthermore the intelligence services M16 and GCHQ were placed on a statutory basis by the Intelligence Services Act 1994 and a parliamentary committee was established to oversee their work. The Freedom of information Act was also a significant step towards open government. Then the discussion will focus on the second issue that is the assertion that open government has increased due to various decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and decisions under the human rights act. It will be argued that these decisions did have an influence but not to the extent the statement represents and other influences such as the common law had a great impact.  Parallel to the main issues is the observation that the movement towards open government is merely to satisfy the provisions of the ECHR rather than allow enjoyment of the rights it confers. Accordingly It was said by Ronald Wraith a legal scholar that, “open government is a fashionable expression whose general intention is reasonably clear but whose practical meaning awaits clarification” Richard A. Chapman, Open Government pg11 paragraph 1. This observation alludes to the limited effect of the measures to enhance open government and that the provisions do not offer aggrieved parties adequate relief.

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In recent years, the British government has attempted to allow greater access to government information and stop the old notion of obsessive state secrecy. In November 2000, Parliament adopted the Freedom of Information Act, which creates a legal right for individuals and organisations to have access to information held by government authorities. Many editors and journalists argued that the law should give broad access to government information, whilst government officials were concerned that such access would create risks to security and also undermine the efficiency of government. The Freedom of Information Act is a compromise between these positions. The Act ...

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