UK Govt ordered to disclose Iraq minutes

The Information Tribunal has ordered the British government to make public the formal minutes of two contentious Cabinet discussions held before the invasion of Iraq.

Tuesday's decision could provide insight into one of the most contentious periods in recent British history. The decision to join the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 sparked widespread domestic opposition and helped transform public opinion of then Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The Information Tribunal upheld the Information Commissioner's decision in February last year that details of the March 13 and 17 sessions in 2003 should be disclosed. The sessions covered whether invasion was allowed under international law.

Cabinet papers usually remain private for at least 30 years, but those containing sensitive material can be kept closed for even longer.

In the case of the formal minutes from the meetings on March 13 and 17, 2003, Britain's Information Tribunal said in its decision that "maintaining the confidentiality of the formal minutes of two Cabinet meetings at which ministers decided to commit forces to military action in Iraq did not ... outweigh the public interest in disclosure."

But it also makes clear that some portions of the discussion that took place will remain closed, and that sensitive material will be removed in order to protect Britain's foreign policy.

The decision was made in response to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act, and upholds a previous decision by the information commissioner. The government has 28 days to appeal, and the Cabinet Office statement said it was considering its response. Alternatively, the government could decide to veto the request under Section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act within 20 working days of the tribunal's ruling.

But before you get too excited - Clare Short, a member of that Cabinet who eventually resigned her position over the decision to go to war in Iraq, said the formal minutes are always written in a sweeping manner: "I think people will be disappointed about how little the minutes will say," she said. "For example, they never attribute different points to different people. They are always in very generalized terms."

British tribunal orders Iraq minutes released (Associated Press, 27 January 2009)

Iraq minutes 'must be released' (BBC News, 27 January 2009)