From the outset, the Hillsborough Independent Panel sought to ensure that organisations donating material understood that the Panel’s terms of reference encouraged maximum possible disclosure without redaction of content (that is, without removing certain types of information from public view). However, it was recognised that some redaction would be required in order to comply with legislation such as the Data Protection Act 1998.
To ensure redaction was kept to a minimum, the Panel established a ‘redaction framework’ which it shared with contributing organisations. The key points from that framework are below.
Key points from the Panel’s ‘redaction framework’
- The Panel’s fundamental aim is to ensure maximum possible disclosure of material, first to the families and then to the wider public. Redaction should be kept to a minimum, while complying with any legal barriers to disclosure.
- Information already in the public domain should not be redacted retrospectively unless a specific barrier exists in law. This includes the police statements placed in the House of Commons and Liverpool Archives following the Stuart-Smith scrutiny; as well as evidence given to public hearings (such as the inquest).
- Where information is redacted this should be obvious to the reader. The majority of redactions are likely to be in relation to personal data and will in general require no specific explanation. Redactions other than for protection of personal data should be accompanied by a short explanation to the Panel.
- The Panel’s agreement is required for all redaction proposals. As in the terms of reference, disagreements between the Panel and information holders as to redaction or non-disclosure will be referred to the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Council.
- The Panel and its secretariat will have access to all information in unredacted form. If this is not possible legally (which the terms of reference clarify will only be the case for a ‘very small number of documents’) the Panel will instead be provided with a summary of the information.
- Very sensitive personal material relating to the deceased may be redacted, but is to be made available to the family of the deceased on request.
- As far as is possible and except where they are already in the public domain, the identities of the following classifications of people will be protected.
- members of the public who provided written observations or witness statements relating to events associated with the tragedy;
- civil servants who were not members of the Senior Civil Service at the time the document in question was produced;
- police officers who were constables or other ranks up to and including sergeant at the time the document was produced;
- other junior public employees who were not in a position to determine their agency’s response to events prior to, during or in the aftermath of the tragedy.
- Redaction will be unnecessary if it is known that an individual has given consent to disclosure explicitly or implicitly.
- Where it is necessary to achieve consistency of identification, individuals should be given anonymised identifiers (for example, “Police Constable (or PC) 234”, “Ambulance Driver (or AmbDriv) 123”). Where this is not necessary or would be a disproportionate use of resource - which is likely to be the majority of instances - a simple redaction will be sufficient.
- The advice of the Information Commissioner has been sought and his view is that, in the light of the age of much of the information and the overarching public interest in bringing the project to a successful conclusion, where redaction of identities is required, this will be accomplished by the redaction of names, addresses, dates of birth and signatures only.
- Information holders may consider some records to be potentially covered by Legal Professional Privilege (LPP), though given the passage of time and events this will have been eroded in many cases. In line with the principle of maximum possible disclosure, the Panel’s expectation is that information holders will waive LPP where the issue arises. The Panel will consider on a case by case basis any exceptional circumstances where information holders believe this not to be possible.
- For information provided in confidence, information holders should refer to the requirements of section 41 of the Freedom of Information Act, which sets strict criteria which must be met if information is to be withheld from release. The Panel’s view is that the legal defence to any breach of confidence based on disclosure in the public interest is of over-riding importance in the context of its work. Given this and the length of time since confidence was originally claimed it expects very little if any of the information in existence to be considered to be confidential in the current climate.