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Using the FOI Act training, 27 June 2018

Photo by G. Crescoli on Unsplash

When: Wednesday 27 June 2018
Where: Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA
Time: Registration 9:45 am, course 10 am – 5:00 pm

Do you want to learn how to use the Freedom of Information Act? Are you already using the Act, but want to know more about how key provisions are being interpreted?

Making a FOI request is straightforward but making an effective request can be more difficult. Requests that ask for too much information can be refused – and some information may be exempt. But a well thought-out request can have a powerful impact, revealing that a policy isn’t working, an authority isn’t doing its job or generating key information for your research.

The course is designed to help campaigners, voluntary organisations and researchers make the most of the Act and the parallel Environmental Information Regulations. It explains the legislation, shows how to draft clear and effective requests and describes how to challenge unjustified refusals. The course’s interactive sessions will encourage you to test your own FOI drafting skills. The course is aimed at both beginners and those who are already using the Act but want to do so more effectively.
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Private nursing misconduct hearings part of a move that would conceal NHS safety problems

Proposals to avoid public misconduct hearings for nurses and midwives are part of a “pattern of moves to limit the public’s right to know about NHS safety problems”, says the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

The Campaign says that a new proposal by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to do away with most public fitness to practise hearings echoes government proposals to keep evidence about safety incidents secret.

Under the NMC proposals, where a nurse or midwife admits to having made an error, the matter will be dealt with in private without the public hearing that now takes place [1]. Reasons for any decision will be published, but there will apparently be no published transcript. “The risk is that failings at a hospital – or by the NMC itself – will be obscured, undermining public confidence in the NHS” the Campaign says.

The same philosophy underpins Department of Health proposals for a new body to investigate significant NHS safety incidents [2]. The Health Service Safety Investigation Body would report on its investigations but be prohibited from revealing unpublished information in response to freedom of information (FOI) requests. The Department says this would allow staff to speak freely to investigators without fear of being unfairly blamed. But the Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said: “the secrecy would not be limited to information provided by staff involved in safety incidents. It would apply to any information from any source obtained during an investigation, including information from the NHS trust itself, independent experts or a drug or medical device manufacturer. Even test results on equipment or anonymised accounts of previous incidents would be kept secret indefinitely.”

Only limited disclosures would be allowed, for example, to the police, regulatory bodies or other NHS bodies. Journalists or campaign groups would have to persuade the High Court to order disclosure of information which is currently available under FOI.

The Campaign says “the NMC proposals reflect the same disturbing philosophy: that patient safety is best served by addressing problems in private.”

Notes:

[1] The new NMC strategy is set out in a draft consultation paper to be discussed by the NMC board on 28 March 2018
https://www.nmc.org.uk/globalassets/sitedocuments/councilpapersanddocuments/council-2018/council-papers-march-2018.pdf

[2] ‘Draft Health Service Safety Investigations Bill’ published by the Department of Health in September 2017
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-service-safety-investigations-bill

Information Commissioner & Tribunal Decisions – what do they mean in practice

Photo: Freedom of Information Act 2000

Photo: Campaign for Freedom of Information

When: 16 May 2018
Where: Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA
Time: 1:00 – 4:30 pm

The Information Commissioner has issued over 11,000 decision notices under the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations – while the Information Rights Tribunal has published over 1,800 decisions. A significant number of appeals to the Upper Tribunal and courts have also been decided. These complex decisions are essential materials for anyone trying to understand what public authorities must do to comply with the legislation.

This course, now in its 13th year, is aimed at experienced FOI practitioners and others with a good working knowledge of the legislation. It highlights the latest developments in the way the exemptions, public interest test and the legislation’s procedural requirements are being interpreted.
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Revised Freedom of Information Code of Practice

The Campaign has responded to the Cabinet Office’s consultation on a draft revised code of practice under section 45 of the Freedom of Information Act. The revised code would replace the current one that was issued in November 2004, shortly before the Act came fully into force.

Although the draft revised code is said to provide guidance on ‘best practice’ under the Act we think it needs to go significantly further to justify that description. As it stands the proposed code:

  • does not fully reflect changes in the interpretation of the Act resulting from Upper Tribunal and court decisions
  • describes as ‘best practice’ some measures which are required under the Act, implying that these statutory requirements are optional
  • fails to properly explain the advice that should be provided when requests exceed the cost limit and how the Act’s provisions on vexatious requests should operate
  • is weaker in key respects that the 2004 version of the code it is intended to replace, omitting numerous helpful passages from it. The effect is to limit rather than extend the spread of good practice.

In the Campaign’s view the new code should be substantially improved before it is introduced.

FOI too slow to contribute to Brexit debate, says Campaign

By Elisa.rolle (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) operates too slowly to contribute to the Brexit debate,  according to the Campaign for Freedom ofInformation.

The Campaign’s director, Maurice Frankel, has submitted a witness statement to the High Court supporting an attempt to use the common law and Article 10 of the ECHR instead of FOIA to obtain government studies on Brexit. The statement says the FOI process is too slow to obtain them in time to inform public debate before the Brexit deadline. The UK is due to leave the EU at the end of March 2019.
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Using the FOI Act training, 7 February 2018

Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

When: Wednesday 7 February 2018
Where: Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA
Time: Registration 9:45 am, course 10 am – 5:00 pm

Do you want to learn how to use the Freedom of Information Act? Are you already using the Act, but want to know more about how key provisions are being interpreted?

Making a FOI request is straightforward but making an effective request can be more difficult. Requests that ask for too much information can be refused – and some information may be exempt. But a well thought-out request can have a powerful impact, revealing that a policy isn’t working, an authority isn’t doing its job or generating key information for your research.

The course is designed to help campaigners, voluntary organisations and researchers make the most of the Act and the parallel Environmental Information Regulations. It explains the legislation, shows how to draft clear and effective requests and describes how to challenge unjustified refusals. The course’s interactive sessions will encourage you to test your own FOI drafting skills. The course is aimed at both beginners and those who are already using the Act but want to do so more effectively.
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Information Commissioner & Tribunal Decisions – what do they mean in practice

Photo: Freedom of Information Act 2000

Photo: Campaign for Freedom of Information

When: 1 and 8 November 2017
Where: Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA
Time: 1:30 – 5:00 pm

The Information Commissioner has issued over 10,000 decision notices under the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations – while the Information Rights Tribunal has published over 1,800 decisions. A significant number of appeals to the Upper Tribunal and courts have also been decided. These complex decisions are essential materials for anyone trying to understand what public authorities must do to comply with the legislation.

This course, now in its 12th year, is aimed at experienced FOI practitioners and others with a good working knowledge of the legislation. It highlights the latest developments in the way the exemptions, public interest test and the legislation’s procedural requirements are being interpreted.
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Using the FOI Act training

Photo by Sanwal Deen on Unsplash

When: Wednesday 4 October 2017
Where: Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA
Time: Registration 9:45 am, course 10 am – 5:00 pm

Do you want to learn how to use the Freedom of Information Act? Are you already using the Act, but want to know more about how key provisions are being interpreted?

Making a FOI request is straightforward but making an effective request can be more difficult. Requests that ask for too much information can be refused – and some information may be exempt. But a well thought-out request can have a powerful impact, revealing that a policy isn’t working, an authority isn’t doing its job or generating key information for your research.

This practical course is designed to help campaigners, researchers, journalists and others make the most of the Act and the parallel Environmental Information Regulations. It explains the legislation, shows how to draft clear and effective requests, describes how to challenge unjustified refusals and highlights critical decisions of the Information Commissioner and Tribunal. The course’s interactive sessions will encourage you to work out how best to apply the Act in a variety of situations. The course is aimed at both beginners and those who are already using the Act but want to do so more effectively.
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Bring housing associations and public service contractors under FOI

The Campaign for Freedom of Information has drafted a bill which would bring both housing associations and private contractors providing public services under the Freedom of Information Act.

Housing associations

Housing associations are not subject to the FOI Act and can refuse to answer requests about fire risks, safety problems, eviction policies, waiting lists and other matters.
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Queen’s Speech proposals will lead to “unnecessary increase in NHS secrecy”

A draft Bill set out in today’s Queen’s Speech will lead to an unnecessary layer of secrecy about investigations into patient deaths and injuries, says the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

The draft Patient Safety Bill will put the work of the newly formed Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB), which investigates selected NHS safety incidents, on a statutory basis. The HSIB will be required to publish reports of its investigations, but will be prohibited by law from revealing any other information obtained during its investigations. FOI requests for such information will automatically be refused.
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