Authority ‘open and transparent’, says St Pier

SECRECY will continue to surround Covid-19 advice discussed by the Civil Contingencies Authority as it refuses to follow the same approach as the UK and Jersey in publishing minutes.

Releasing minutes of CCA meetings 'is simply not proportionate or necessary in order to meet the principles of transparency', said Gavin St Pier. (28731744)
Releasing minutes of CCA meetings 'is simply not proportionate or necessary in order to meet the principles of transparency', said Gavin St Pier. (28731744)

The UK government publishes Sage minutes outlining the scientific and health issues discussed and actions and advice agreed during each meeting of the group during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Normally that would happen at the end of an emergency, but it decided in May that given the exceptional nature of the pandemic they should be released now – it wanted to ensure there is as much available evidence and material as possible to the general public so there is full transparency on how science advice is being formulated.

Jersey has also voted to publish minutes of scientific meetings that have aided government decisions on Covid-19.

When approached by the Guernsey Press for a similar show of transparency, Deputy Gavin St Pier, chairman of the Civil Contingencies Authority, said its members have tried to be as transparent as possible with the community.

‘From the outset, working closely with the director of Public Health and her team, we have shared all relevant data – this includes data relating to local cases and our triggers for moving into lockdown and out of it. Additionally, all CCA decisions are presented to the States of Deliberation for members to question and then approve or reject,’ he said.

‘In recent months States Members have taken the opportunity to question and we have answered in an open and transparent way to provide the necessary assurances to the Assembly, which has then subsequently voted unanimously to approve all CCA decisions to date.

‘But transparency isn’t defined as simply publishing everything; it’s about general principles of openness, communication and accountability. Throughout our management of this emergency, we have tried to be as open as we reasonably can be, we have tried to communicate well and often with the public, and we have been accountable for the decisions we have made.

‘Releasing minutes of CCA meetings, which outline in detail discussions as members question and challenge all possible scenarios, is simply not proportionate or necessary in order to meet the principles of transparency. It is also not sensible or smart given the pandemic remains ongoing and the 2012 Civil Contingencies Law prohibits the release of material that could damage the work of the Authority.

He said it was not a particularly useful exercise to try and compare Guernsey’s response with other jurisdictions.

‘We note Jersey has published minutes of two meetings – from 28 and 30 April – but the style and content is markedly different from the way our minutes have been drafted. Likewise the UK’s. As I have repeated consistently, it is for each jurisdiction to make appropriate decisions for their handling of this emergency. The CCA can review this again once the emergency is concluded, although no inference should be taken from that as the Authority would at that time still need to consider many factors, including the potential impact to the long-term openness and candour of discussions should a precedent be set to release meeting minutes.’

The UK has published 58 sets of minutes so far up until the start of September.

The States has also turned down an individuals access to public information request for the minutes.

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