Steven Sugar takes freedom of information to House of Lords
Who? Steven Sugar, 59, consultant commercial lawyer at London firm Forsters.
Why is he in the news? He brought the first case under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) to reach the House of Lords, with the Lords ruling in favour of his right to appeal to the Information Tribunal.
The BBC had refused Sugar’s request to disclose an internal report on alleged anti-Israeli bias in its Middle East coverage on the grounds that the report was commissioned for the ‘purposes of journalism’.
Sugar pursued the case through the Information Commissioner and Information Tribunal, which ruled that the journalism exemption did not apply. The BBC rejected the ruling, arguing that the Information Tribunal did not have the jurisdiction to hear an individual’s appeal. The High Court agreed, but the Lords came down three to two on Sugar’s side.
Thoughts on the case: ‘This case is about making the BBC accountable for its journalism. The House of Lords has now decided to reinstate the decision of the Information Tribunal that the report is covered by the Freedom of Information Act.
‘The BBC argued that the Information Tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear my appeal to it, but would have had jurisdiction to hear an appeal to it from the BBC. This would have created an obvious unfairness.’
Dealing with the media: ‘Journalists want information in the public domain and so, with the exception of the BBC, were largely supportive.’
Why become a lawyer? ‘I read mathematics at university, then converted to law. Both disciplines require logical analysis, but with law I could use my knowledge to practical effect.’
Career highlight? ‘I persuaded the Bank of England to give an indemnity to a private client entering into a transaction with it during the problems on the London Metal Exchange in the 1980s. The Bank is never keen to do that.’