R (Persey) v Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs
Reference:  EWHC 371 (Admin);  QB 794;  3 WLR 704
Court: Divisional Court
Judge: Simon Brown LJ, Scott Baker J
Date of judgment: 15 Mar 2002
Summary: Public Law - Administrative law - judicial review - foot and mouth disease inqury - in public or in private - access to information - Article 10 ECHR
Desmond Browne CBE QC - Leading Counsel (Claimant)
Instructing Solicitors: Reynolds Porter Chamberlain for the Interveners
The government ordered a review of the handling of the nationwide foot and mouth disease outbreak of 2001. The inquiry was to be held principally by means of private sessions. Groups of farming and other countryside interests, supported by a consortium of media organisations, sought judicial review of this decision, relying among other things on the relatively recent decision that it was irrational and unlawful for the inquiry into the deaths of patients of Dr Shipman to be held in private.
Whether it lawful for the inquiry to be held principally in private session, excluding members of the public.
The government was entitled to decide that the inquiry should be held privately, in the interests of speed and efficiency. Article 10 ECHR did not afford a right of public access to information of this kind. By deciding to hold the inquiry in private the government was not interfering with access to information; it was affording additional access, via the inquiry reports.
The decision that the Shipman inquiry should be held in public was still relatively recent, and that inquiry was current at the time of this decision. It was distinguished. The court seems to have feared that opening the FMD inquiry to the public would cause inordinate delay and expense.