Cabinet minutes on Iraq invasion must be revealed; Tribunal insists public interest 'foremost'.
THE Government was ordered last night to release the minutes of crunch 2003 Cabinet meetings where the invasion of Iraq was discussed.
The Information Tribunal upheld a decision by the Information Commissioner that details of the sessions on March 13 and 17 should be disclosed.
The meetings considered the highly controversial issue of whether the invasion was allowed under international law.
In its ruling, the Tribunal said: "We have decided that the public interest in 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."
The arguments in favour of keeping the formulation of Government policy secret and preserving the principle of collective responsibility were defeated in this "exceptional case", the ruling said.
The Tribunal said its decision had been "difficult" and carried by a majority, rather than unanimously.
The ruling opens up the prospect of one of the most controversial Government decisions of recent years being laid bare - although the Tribunal stressed that disclosure would not necessarily set a precedent.
Information Commissioner Richard Thomas said: "I am pleased that the Tribunal has upheld my decision that the public interest in disclosing the official Cabinet minutes in this particular case outweighs the public interest in withholding the information.
"Disclosing the minutes will allow the public to more fully understand this particular decision."
The Cabinet Office now has 28 days to decide whether to appeal to the High Court against the ruling.
The Tribunal said the public interest in favour of disclosure had not been "significantly reduced" by the fact that inquiries had already been carried out into the invasion.
"In the view of the majority the questions and concerns that remain about the quite exceptional circumstances of the two relevant meetings create a very strong case in favour of the formal records being disclosed," the ruling stated.
Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell said: "This is a major step forward in explaining the supine attitude of members of the Cabinet towards military action and is clearly in the public interest."' Former Cabinet minister Clare Short, who resigned over Britain's involvement in Iraq, said: "I think people will be disappointed about how little the minutes will say.
"For example, they never attribute different points to different people. They are always in very generalised terms." Ms Short said there was "very little proper discussion" in the Cabinet, adding: "Cabinet meetings were limited and the minutes are very generalised and limited."