Scholar wages FoI battle for bank collapse data

April 29, 2010

An academic is battling to obtain access to Treasury documents relating to past banking failures, five years after he first asked to see the material under the Freedom of Information Act.

Prem Sikka, professor of accounting at the University of Essex, said he began investigating banking collapses in 2005 because he "had a feeling that things were going wrong" again.

Using the FoI Act, he asked the Department of Trade and Industry - which has been replaced by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills - for a report on the failure of Ramor Investments, a specialist banking company that went under in 1975.

Professor Sikka said he asked the DTI for a copy of its final report and all correspondence relating to it, but it told him that it could not find the report, and it withheld the correspondence.

In March this year, the Information Commissioner finally ruled that ministers should disclose some of the papers requested.

But it included the details of the material to be disclosed in a confidential annexe to the decision, which the professor has not seen.

"I have no way of knowing whether BIS has been ordered to disclose what I had requested, or otherwise," said Professor Sikka. "It is bizarre and I can protect my interest only by lodging an appeal." He has not yet received any information from BIS.

Professor Sikka said it was not the first time that he had encountered difficulties when investigating banking failures.

In 2006 he asked the Treasury for a full report on the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which was founded in 1972 and shut down in 1991 after massive fraud was uncovered.

The professor's request was turned down, and the Information Commissioner ruled that sections of the report that were not already publicly available could prejudice relations between the UK and another country.

Professor Sikka has challenged this ruling, and earlier this month a judge allowed his appeal even though he had lodged it outside the permitted time limits.

The professor told Times Higher Education: "I had hoped that this material would help me respond to the banking collapse. I missed that boat and have instead spent years exchanging emails about freedom of information."

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