INFORMATION COMMISSIONER AND TRIBUNAL DECISIONS - NEXT FOI CASE LAW UPDATE 6TH JUNE 2024. RESERVE YOUR PLACE NOW!

Ombudsman report reveals “indelibly ingrained secrecy” of public authorities

Welcoming the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s new report on access to official information, published tomorrow (December 10) the Campaign for Freedom of Information said it demonstrated why a strong Freedom of Information Act was essential.

“You could not ask for a clearer demonstration of the indelibly ingrained secrecy of British authorities than this report.” said the Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel. He added: “One body 1 claims it would take thousands of hours to locate information when some of it could have been obtained at the touch of a button by a computer search. Another refuses to release information which has already been published 2. A third says it cannot reveal information about a potential car defect without the manufacturer’s permission, despite the fact that it has already been releasing that information without permission 3. A fourth introduces its own more restrictive disclosure policy, and ignores the government code of practice 4. A fifth rejects the Code altogether, claiming that it interferes with the exercise of their own discretion5.”

The Campaign welcomed the Ombudsman’s “robust report”, and said it “showed why only the strongest Freedom of Information (FOI) Act will have any effect on official secrecy. The government must not water down its original proposal6, which would force authorities wanting to withhold information to show that disclosure would cause “substantial harm”. Any weaker test would have no impact on the kinds of attitudes shown in the Ombudsman’s report.”

Note

The Parliamentary Ombudsman investigates complaints that central government bodies have failed to comply with the non-statutory Open Government code of practice, introduced in 1994. The Ombudsman’s latest report, published on December 10 (Selected Cases, April-October 1998)describes his investigations into eight complaints.

Footnotes

1. The Health and Safety Executive, Case A7/99

2. Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, Case A1/97

3. Vehicle Inspectorate, Case A25/97

4. Arts Council of England, Case A7/98

5. Land Registry, Case A23/97

6. Published in the white paper on Freedom of Information, December 1997

Scroll to Top