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Supreme Court praises journalist who challenged charity watchdog on George Galloway appeal

The Supreme Court has praised a journalist on The Times newspaper who mounted a legal challenge after the Charity Commission refused requests to disclose information relating to a high-profile politician.

One Supreme Court justice today said Dominic Kennedy, who asked for information about inquiries the commission conducted into an appeal launched by George Galloway, had "raised significant unanswered questions of real public interest".

Mr Kennedy had asked questions about commission inquiries - between 2003 and 2005 - conducted into an appeal launched by Mr Galloway in connection with sanctions imposed on Iraq following the first Gulf War.

Lord Mance said Mr Kennedy had shown that "important questions" arose in relation to the commission's conduct of inquiries.

The commission said information Mr Kennedy wanted was subject to an "absolute exemption from disclosure" under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Kennedy mounted a challenge in the Supreme Court - the highest in the UK - in the hope of overturning the commission's decision.

Seven Supreme Court justices ruled against him by a five-to-two majority.

But Lord Mance, one of the justices who ruled against Mr Kennedy, said: "Mr Kennedy has raised significant unanswered questions of real public interest.

"We are concerned with a situation where both the Charities Act and the Charity Commission in publishing its report under the Act recognise that the public has a legitimate interest in being informed about the relevant inquiries.

"That must mean 'properly informed'. The Charity Commission recognised that this was a case for public reports, and such reports must account properly to the public for the conduct and outcome of the inquiries. "

Lord Mance added: "Here, Mr Kennedy has shown that important questions arise from the inquiries and reports relating not only to the subject matter and outcome of the inquiries, but also to the Charity Commission's conduct of the inquiries.

"The proper functioning and regulation of charities is a matter of great public importance and legitimate interest. The public interest in openness in relation to these questions is demonstrated positively by the objectives, the functions and, importantly, the duties given to and imposed on the Charity Commission under the Charities Act.

"The present request for further disclosure is made by a journalist in the light of the powerful public interest in the subject matter to enable there to be appropriate public scrutiny and awareness of the adequacy of the functioning and regulation of a particular charity.

"It is in these circumstances a request to which the Charity Commission should in my opinion accede in the public interest, except so far as the public interest in disclosure is demonstrably outweighed by any countervailing arguments that may be advanced."

Lord Carnwath was one of two justices who would have allowed Mr Kennedy's appeal.

"It is particularly important for us not to lose sight of what the case is about in terms of 'merits'," said Lord Carnwath.

"The public interest of the information sought by Mr Kennedy, and the legitimacy of his reasons as a journalist for seeking it, are not in dispute.

"Nor in my view has any convincing policy reason been put forward for a blanket exemption, as contended for by the Charity Commission."

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