A former BMA solicitor decides, but is it justice?

In April 2013 three members of SWWHAG appealed against the Information Commissioner’s decision to uphold as “vexatious” a Freedom of Information (FOI) Request made to NHS Bristol Primary Care Trust for the same information that its Director of Commissioning, Louise Tranmer had requested of North Bristol NHS Trust.

Unlike most other exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the vexatious exemption is not subject to a public interest test. That is why some public bodies and their officers seize it to unscrupulously conceal information of public interest, as NHS Bristol did in this case.

The Information Commissioner and NHS Bristol declined to be represented at the First Tier Tribunal Hearing. The Tribunal Panel was chaired by Christopher Hughes, former solicitor to the BMA (British Medical Association), and included two lay people, Suzanne Cosgrave and Jacqueline Blake. The role of the Information Tribunal Panel is simply to determine whether the Information Commissioner’s Office has applied the Freedom of Information Act lawfully. However this Tribunal Panel upheld the Information Commissioner’s decision by way of this curiously intemperate ruling:


We decided not to appeal to the Upper Tribunal against the First Tier Tribunal decision because the chances of success were low. Our experience is that Tribunals regard litigants in person (people who have  no legal representation), as pests, to be swatted away. For the record here is our response to the Tribunal’s ruling that the FOI request was a “gross misuse” of the act. It did not reply:


Our recollection of Panel member Jacqueline Blake’s participation in the hearing was that she yawned once and asked one unmemorable question. Suzanne Cosgrave asked why we had resorted to the Freedom of Information Act instead of relying on normal mechanisms of accountability. When we explained that normal mechanisms don’t work with the NHS, she moved on quickly.

Christopher Hughes seemed disinterested when we pointed out that the bundle submitted by the Information Commissioner contained documents which were prima facie evidence of breach of the Data Protection Act and Freedom of Information Act by NHS Bristol.

The Tribunal’s decision obsesses about SWWHAG’s relationship with NHS organisations and its views on the Bristol Histopathology Inquiry, managed by management consultants, Verita.


The Tribunal’s narrative about the co-chair of a Pathology Lay Reference Group, Mr Malcolm Watson (Page 13) is “illuminating” because it relies solely on Mr Watson’s own words and ignores these facts:


and this:

The specific bit that riled me was the apparent quote cited on page 11, which states “The exhaustive inquiry found no evidence to suggest that the histopathology department at University Hospitals Bristol provides anything other than a safe service.” (Sentence is in bold in the middle of a paragraph!). This made me angry……… For a start it is taken out of context.  Secondly it is cherry-picking one of the few non-negative comments about UHB histo in the whole report.” (South Gloucestershire Local Involvement Network Chair Malcolm Watson, commenting on University Hospitals Bristol’s Quality Account 2010/11 on 10th May 2011).

The Histopathology Inquiry covered up the extent and seriousness of the histopathology problems and senior doctors, including a former president of the Royal College of Pathologists, have not been held accountable for the part they played in this.


At first sight, it’s difficult to understand why the Information Tribunal Panel thought our opinions about the Inquiry were relevant to an appeal against an FOI request which simply asked for the same information about service quality that NHS Bristol’s Director of Commissioning had tried to obtain from North Bristol NHS Trust; until you consider this:

Suzanne Cosgrave’s career includes the following:

  • General Pharmaceutical Council, Fitness to Practise lay member (reserve)
  • Council member, General Dental Council
  • Chief Executive, Worthing Priority Care NHS Trust
  • General Manager – Operations, Medical Defence Union

Christopher Hughes’ career includes:

  • Interim Company Secretary and Consultant – £400M NHS Body.
  • Interim Head of Legal Services NHSU (National Health Service University)
  • Consultant Solicitor Central Government – including Department of Health
  • Ten years as Solicitor to the British Medical Association (BMA)

as Dr Phil Hammond says, with friends like the BMA……….


It all falls into place. Christopher Hughes and Suzanne Cosgrave should have recused themselves from hearing the appeal due to potential conflicts of interest and lack of impartiality through their professional association with the NHS, Department of Health and Health Profession defence/trade unions.

With these undeclared and unresolved conflicts of interest, it is not surprising that this Tribunal Panel got uppity that Citizen Whistleblowers dared to criticise the Verita managed Histopathology Inquiry that cost £734,000 of public money and betrayed whistleblowers.

© South West Whistleblowers Health Action Group 2015


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