Gary Walker and the ethics of gagging
From Brother Ivo:
It is always necessary to be very careful about commenting on legal cases until the full facts are known. We ought accordingly to be appropriately cautious about the case of Gary Walker, who asserted on the BBC Today programme this morning that his negotiations with the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust to settle an employment dispute included a provision that he must not disclose the terms of that agreement to the media.
The BBC has, however, placed into the public record the detailed terms of a gagging provision which it says was part of an employment law settlement of Mr Walker’s claim for unfair dismissal, and that it was required, as a precondition of financial settlement by the Trust, under the advice of solicitors DAC Beachcroft.
Brother Ivo has not seen the document and only comments on the premise that such agreements may be in currency within the public services. If such a silencing provision is true as reported, it discloses a most alarming state of affairs.
Sometimes a phrase acquires such currency that we fail to recognise the basic underlying concept. We are talking about public services. We are talking about public money and public servants. Those advising these bodies are also under the same moral penumbra of moral obligation as to how these considerable powers and resources are utilised.
These are not the matters of gift lying in the exclusive and unaccountable discretion of some medieval monarch or his chosen favourite.
The number of occasions when the use of public funds should be utilised to shield public bodies and public servants from our scrutiny ought to be very rare indeed. A functioning democracy requires accountability based upon the fullest information. The report suggests that in addition to the privileged governmental classes enjoying remuneration, pensions and expenses beyond the imaginings of ordinary subjects, they now seek to create a culture of secrecy at the heart of government so that what they do and how they protect those privileges shall not be known.
If the Government seeks to preserve its reputation as one of integrity, it needs as a matter of urgency to ascertain what has happened, who has created this constitutional outrage, when it occurred and who has known about it.
This is not a regional scandal but one which strikes at the very heart of democratic values. We may be habituated to such outrage in Brussels - but Lincolnshire?
There is a further aspect.
Mr Walker has apparently chosen to take the risk of disclosure. If so, Brother Ivo applauds him. But what if we had only secured a hint of this scandal by someone hacking into emails of the participants?
It perhaps warns us of what lurks beneath the surface of post-Leveson controls on the Press.
We live in dangerous times for the democracy bequeathed to us by our noble forebears. Principled men and women of all political persuasions must raise their voices loudly against this appalling usurping of the people’s right to know.
(Posted by Brother Ivo)