Page last updated at 08:57 GMT, Tuesday, 6 May 2008 09:57 UK

Victims advice request refused

By Johnny Caldwell
BBC News

Victims' commissioners
Four victims' commissioners were appointed instead of one

Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness's office has refused to disclose the legal advice it based its decision to appoint four victims' commissioners on.

Originally only one such post was advertised by OFMDFM but the first and deputy first ministers decided to appoint three more.

At the time, they said they made the decision after receiving legal advice.

However, a BBC News request for a copy of this advice under the Freedom of Information Act has been turned down.

Responding two months late to the request (made on 28 January), an Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) spokesman said the refusal was based on, among other things, a need to ensure that the first and deputy first ministers "be allowed to conduct a free exchange of views as to their legal rights and obligations with those advising them without fear of intrusion".

While consideration was given to the public interest being served through the disclosure of the information, it was decided that this was not a sufficiently exceptional set of circumstances to warrant such a move.

There is an ongoing legal challenge to the appointment of the four victims' commissioners, however, this was not relied upon in the explanation as to why OFMDFM had decided not to make the advice it received public.

SDLP justice spokesman Alban Maginness said: "Not withstanding the technical reasons for not revealing this information, I think privilege could have been abandoned in this instance if OFMDFM were confident in their decision."

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