Our public offices should be more transparent, not less

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Emma Judd

It was an announcement that the Civil Service Code has had a line added to it, which simply states that all civil servants have to have ministerial clearance before talking to the press.

It sounds quite innocuous and not something that the unions should get uptight about. But they have. And here’s why.

Imagine you’re a victim of crime but, due to procedural failings by the Crown Prosecution Service, the trial never happens and the crime goes unpunished.

It could happen — in 2012 a report found one in 15 cases prosecuted by the CPS had mistakes or errors.

Problems with these procedures could have been highlighted by whistleblowers in time to save you from going through this agonising and ultimately futile process. But because of the new line added to the code, they were too intimidated to speak out, even anonymously.

As long as national security isn’t threatened, what’s the problem?

Whistleblowers have been highlighting failures, wrongdoings and lapses of judgement since the establishment began, working with a free press to ensure the public is represented by the best officials and the best procedures possible.

As long as national security isn’t threatened, what’s the problem?

At the same time as this announcement was made Mark Blake, a former detention custody officer at Colnbrook secure immigration removal centre, was giving evidence at the Old Bailey. He is accused of conspiring with a reporter from The Sun to commit misconduct in a public office, which he denies.

The court has heard that he was paid for stories The Sun carried, but he says those stories highlighted problems at the centre and that he was acting as a whistleblower by showing how public money was being spent, not just telling tales for cash.

This is all part of Operation Elveden, which of course has its roots in Operation Weeting — the phone hacking scandal.

Between the new code, the threat of prosecution and, crucially, the budget pressures facing newspapers these days, it is essential more is done to make public offices more transparent, not less.