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Justice Committee recommendation would ‘seriously undermine FOI Act’

A Justice Committee report published today supports the abolition of the main right to appeal against the Information Commissioner’s decisions under the Freedom of Information Act. This would “seriously undermine the FOI Act” says the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

The Justice Committee report [1] supports a recommendation made this March by the Commission on Freedom of Information chaired by Lord Burns. The Commission recommended that the right to appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) against decisions of the Information Commissioner should be abolished. A right to appeal to the Upper Tribunal on a point of law would remain.

The Campaign for FOI points out that Commission’s own figures showed that 21% of FTT appeals by FOI requesters in 2014 were wholly or partly successful, leading to disclosure of wrongly withheld information. Depriving requesters of this right would weaken the public’s right to know, it says.

The Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said: “In the last year or so the tribunal has ordered the Cabinet Office to disclose how members of the Chilcot inquiry into the invasion of Iraq were appointed. It has ordered the Department for Education to reveal payments to new sponsors taking over failing academy schools. It has told the Ministry of Defence it was wrong to withhold information about the failure to warn soldiers that they would get a criminal record if being convicted of minor disciplinary offences. It required the Ministry of Justice to identify landlords convicted of offences for letting dangerous or grossly substandard accommodation and has ordered authorities to release information about the contracting-out of public services – or decisions to keep them in-house. The right to challenge the Information Commissioner’s decisions is important and losing it would be a major blow.”

The Government has not so far announced any decision on this issue, though the Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock has said the government was not intending to make any ‘legal changes’ as a result of the Commission’s report.

Notes

[1] The House of Commons Justice Committee’s report ‘Court and Tribunals Fees’, 2nd report of session 2016-17, HC 167 was published on 20 June 2016. At paragraph 28 it refers to the Commission on Freedom of Information’s recommendation that the right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal against decisions of the Information Commissioner should be removed. It adds: “We see no reason to disagree with the Commission’s views.”

[2] The Commission on Freedom of Information recommended “That the government legislates to remove the right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal against decisions of the IC made in respect of the Act.” (Recommendation 17)

Further information:

Maurice Frankel or Katherine Gundersen 0207 324 2519

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