Tribunal Rules Against Total Secrecy Over UK Drone Strikes

The government’s power to block requests for information on national security grounds has been significantly curtailed by a tribunal ruling over targeted killings of British jihadists abroad. Although attempts to obtain the legal advice given to the prime minister before RAF drone strikes in Syria in 2015 were dismissed, the court said officials could not rely on a blanket ban preventing the release of all relevant details. The upper tribunal administrative appeals chamber decision, handed down shortly before Christmas, said freedom of information requests in such sensitive policy areas should be subject instead to qualified exemptions in which security concerns are balanced against wider public interests.

The tribunal also criticised the Information Commissioner’s Office for accepting assurances by government departments that the material was all exempt from FOI applications. The ICO, it emerged, had not even read the documents in the case. The challenge was brought by Rights Watch (UK) after RAF drone strikes against two British citizens, Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin, which prompted accusations that officials were operating a US-style “kill list”. At the time, the prime minister, David Cameron, described the attack as a “new departure” and said he had relied on legal advice from the attorney general, Jeremy Wright QC, which assured him it was “entirely lawful”. Later that year, UK and US forces cooperated on an airstrike that killed Mohammed Emwazi, nicknamed “Jihadi John”, the Islamic State extremist held responsible for killing several western hostages. The day after the attack on Khan and Amin, Rights Watch (UK) submitted a freedom of information request for the legal advice, or a summary of it, to be published.

Read more; Owen Bowcott, Guardian,

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