A regional daily is taking its battle for transparency over the way a nursing regulator dealt with a disgraced midwife to the UK courts today.
A legal hearing is to determine whether The Mail, based in Barrow-in-Furness, should have the right to access a review into the way the Nursing and Midwifery Council handled the case of Lindsey Biggs.
The midwife was allowed continue to deliver babies by the NMC for eight years after her actions contributed to the death of newborn Joshua Titcombe, and was only suspended after being sacked over failings in the way she cared for a second infant, Poppy Rushton, who died in 2016.
The NMC went on to ban her from practicing as a midwife for good in relation to Joshua’s death.
The Mail has been fighting for the past 18 months for the right of the public to know whether the NMC should have suspended her sooner.
But the NMC has refused to disclose a review of the way it handled the case, claiming instead that it has a legal right to keep the document and its contents secret because it contains “privileged legal advice and personal data relating to other individuals”.
The battle will now go before a formal legal hearing in Manchester today, where a judge and two other experts will decide the case under Freedom of Information legislation.
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, previously said the argument for revealing the report was strongly in the public interest, but added she could not overturn the principle of legal professional privilege, which allows an organisation to seek legal advice in confidence.
James Higgins, pictured, group editor at Mail owner the CN Group, said: “One of the very reasons local news organisations exist is to fight for the right of the public to know what happens behind closed doors at public bodies and authorities across the UK.
“It is our absolute duty to hold organisations such as the NMC to account and to ensure there is ongoing scrutiny of they way in which they operate.
“The NMC has been far from transparent on this occasion, retreating into the trenches on a matter of huge public interest and refusing to disclose a report which should without question be in the public domain. The organisation has chosen to use public money to fund a top barrister to fight its corner, which raises further questions about why the NMC wants to keep this report secret.
“I am hopeful the tribunal will see through the NMC’s veneer of using legal privilege to withhold the report, and order it is published immediately.”
An NMC spokesman said: “In this case, the information requested contained privileged legal advice and personal data relating to other individuals.
“In August 2017 the Information Commissioner upheld our decision not to release this advice under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It would be inappropriate to comment further while this matter is still ongoing.”