Judgment in Blue Star case by July?

Vidya Ram London | Updated on March 09, 2018

A file photo of the Golden Temple in Amritsar   -  Kamal Narang

A tribunal hearing on whether further details of British involvement in the run-up to 1984 Operation Blue Star was set to conclude on Thursday afternoon, following a series of open and closed sessions that the appellant’s solicitor described as “Kafkaesque”.

The tribunal rejected attempts by the appellant in the case to gain time to review further information held in the National Archive.

The appellant, Irish law firm KRW, is acting on behalf of Phil Miller, a freelance journalist who is seeking four files relating to Operation Blue Star to be made public, following his 2014 discovery of files in the National Archive that initially pointed to the UK involvement.

They are challenging a 2015 decision by Britain’s Information Commissioner that supported the Cabinet Office decision not to release the additional Cabinet Office and Prime Ministerial files. While open parts of Wednesday’s hearing focussed on what constituted “historical” information, and what would have “real implications” for bilateral relations today (a distinction that the Cabinet Office legal team sought to make), much of Thursday’s hearing focussed on issues around national security and the role of intelligence services in the Joint Intelligence Committee in informing details in the documents under question.

Under Section 23 of Britain’s Freedom of Information Act 2000, information held by a public authority is exempt from disclosure requirements if it relates to bodies, including security services, secret services, special forces and other bodies.

The Cabinet Office legal team has sought to maintain that the information in the suppressed files had to be substantially different and pose a threat to bilateral relations, irrespective of which political party was in power in India, compared to what had already been divulged.

“There is a good deal of institutional continuity on India around territorial integrity…violent extremism,” Owen Jenkins, a senior civil servant, formerly the head of South Asia and Afghanistan at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, told the tribunal during Thursday’s hearing.

However, sources have suggested India holds a neutral position on the issue, viewing the decision on whether to release further information on the case as a purely domestic matter for Britain.

Concluding submissions were set to take place on Thursday afternoon, with a judgment on the case expected by July from the three-member tribunal panel. The case could be appealed to further courts, right up to Britain’s Supreme Court.

The case coincides with the launch of the legal process for a judge-led public inquiry on British involvement in Operation Blue Star earlier this week, by the Sikh Federation (UK), represented by KRW.

Dabinderjit Singh, an advisor to the Sikh Federation (UK), said they believed that whatever the result of the ongoing tribunal it would help build their case for a public inquiry.

Published on March 08, 2018

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