The Ministry of Justice is consulting on proposals that fees should be introduced for appeals to the Tribunal against Information Commissioner FOI decisions. The proposals would have serious implications for individual FOI requesters and the general public. However, figuring out precisely where these proposals can be found is a little tricky.
The consultation document confusingly combines the new proposals on fees for FOI appeals with the government’s response to an earlier consultation about fees for other kinds of legal proceedings.
The key part of the consultation document is page 29. This deals with proposed fees for appeals to the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber). This is the part of the tribunal system which, amongst other things, deals with FOI appeals. There is a reference to appeals against the Information Commissioner’s decisions in paragraph 124.
The General Regulatory Chamber also deals with appeals involving charities, consumer credit and transport. There is no need to mention these, unless you happen to have specific views on the issues involved.
Paragraph 126 states:
“In the remaining jurisdictions within the General Regulatory Chamber we have proposed one fee for an appeal decision on the papers and one fee for an oral hearing. Our proposal is to charge a fee of £100 to issue proceedings, which would entitle the claimant to a decision based on a review of the papers. The claimant may alternatively elect for an oral hearing, in which case a further fee of £500 would be payable. Based on current volumes, we estimate that this proposal would generate a cost recovery percentage of around 17% after remissions.”
This is the proposal that would affect FOI appeals. It would mean that an appeal based solely on written submissions would cost £100. An appeal involving an oral hearing would cost £600. Fees would be reduced or waived for those on very low incomes.
If you are concerned about this, we would urge you to respond to Questions 14 & 15.
In broad terms you might say something like:
No. I/we do not agree with the introduction of fees for proceedings under the Freedom of Information Act in the General Regulatory Chamber.
Unlike other proceedings which involve the appellant’s private rights, FOI appeals seek to promote the public interest by making information publicly available. Many potentially successful FOI appeals against orders upholding an authority’s decision to refuse an FOI request are likely to be deterred by the proposed fees, and this will affect the public as a whole not just the individual appellant.
Yes. I/we believe that proceedings under the FOI Act should be exempt from the proposed fees.
The introduction of fees for appeals to the employment tribunal has severely cut the number of unfair dismissal claims to about 1/3 of their previous level. Introducing fees for FOI appeals is likely to have a similarly drastic impact. However, public authorities challenging pro-disclosure decisions by the Information Commissioner are unlikely to be deterred by the proposed fees resulting in an inequality of arms.
If you’re able to express this in your own words it’s of course even better. Please do add any additional arguments you may have based on your, or your organisation’s, experience of using the FOI appeals system.
Responses must be sent by Tuesday 15 September to: Michael Odulaja, Court & Tribunal Fees Policy, firstname.lastname@example.org
We’d be grateful if you could email us a copy of your response.