Requests were made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to the House of Commons for all documents held relating to claims for Additional Costs Allowance by 14 Members of Parliament over a number of years. The House of Commons refused. The applicants appealed, first to the Commissioner, who ordered disclosure by headline amounts only.
The House appealed to the information tribunal contending that the order should not have been made or, alternatively, that the categories of the breakdown should be varied. The applicants cross-appealed on the basis that all the requested information should be disclosed. The Tribunal dismissed the House’s appeal and largely allowed the cross-appeals on the basis that the ACA system as operated constituted a recipe for confusion, inconsistency and the risk of misuse.
The House appealed to the High Court, contending that the tribunal had misdirected itself by failing to recognise the existence of and therefore give appropriate weight to the reasonable expectations of MPs about precisely how information about the ACA claims would be made available to the public.
The High Court dismissed the appeal. It was impossible to conclude that the tribunal had ignored the issue of MPs’ reasonable expectations. The tribunal had expressly recorded the argument and expressly rejected it. There was no error of law which would justify interfering with the tribunal. Once legislation such as the 2000 Act had been enacted, MPs could not contract out of compliance with it. Even if MPs were justified in anticipating that the details of their claims for ACA would not normally be disclosed, once it emerged, as the tribunal had found, that the operation of the ACA system was deeply flawed, public scrutiny of the details of individual claims were inevitable. As to the disclosure of individual addresses, there was a legitimate public interest justifying disclosure. If arrangement for oversight and control of the ACA system were to change, then the issue of the privacy and security of MPs and their families might lead to a different conclusion to that reached by the tribunal.