Photograph: Samuel Zeller
When: Wednesday 24 October 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, 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 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.
A new parliamentary report has been criticised by the Campaign for Freedom of Information and News Media Association for endorsing a proposal that will prevent a new NHS patient safety body from disclosing safety information under the Freedom of Information Act.
A draft government bill to establish the Health Service Investigations Body would also prevent it from disclosing information it holds in connection with any patient safety investigation. The parliamentary committee recommends extending this restriction to any information provided in order to promote patient safety, regardless of whether it relates to an investigation.
The Information Commissioner’s Office has invited comments on a draft policy setting out its approach to taking action against those who have breached the legislation it enforces. The Campaign’s response states:
“Although the draft Regulatory Action Policy purports to address the ICO’s policy in relation to all the legislation it enforces, the focus on data protection, and nothing else, is overwhelming. The document gives the impression that all other issues, including freedom of information, have been squeezed off the ICO’s agenda altogether.
A Joint Committee of MPs and peers has been set up to consider the Draft Health Service Safety Investigations Bill. The bill establishes a new body called the Health Service Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB) to carry out investigations into safety concerns. It also makes provision for the HSSIB to accredit local NHS trusts to carry out their own investigations.
The Campaign is concerned by a prohibition on disclosure included in the draft bill. As it stands, the HSSIB and accredited NHS trusts would publish reports on their investigations into serious patient safety incidents. But they would be prohibited from making public any other information held in connection with the investigations. The prohibition would override the right of access under the Freedom of Information Act and – it is suggested – the subject access right under the Data Protection Act.
In a submission to the Committee, the Campaign says the reform would deprive the public of two important rights they have enjoyed for years.
The Freedom of Information (Extension) Bill was due to have its second reading on June 15 2018. The Bill, which was drafted with the assistance of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, was unfortunately not reached. A prolonged debate on the preceding bill consumed all the available Parliamentary time.
This is the speech that Andy Slaughter MP the bill’s promoter would have given had time permitted.
Information about public services provided by contractors and fire risks at housing associations would be made subject the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act under a private member’s bill introduced by Andy Slaughter the Hammersmith MP. His Freedom of Information (Extension) Bill is to be due for second reading debate in the Commons this Friday, June 15 2018.
At present, information held by contractors delivering public services is only available under FOI if the contract entitles the public authority concerned to that information from the contractor. If the contract is silent, the public has no right to it.
The bill, drafted by the Campaign for Freedom of Information, would bring all contractor-held information about the performance of the contract within the Act’s scope. It could be obtained by a request to the public authority, subject to the Act’s exemptions.
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 . 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 . 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.”
 The new NMC strategy is set out in a draft consultation paper to be discussed by the NMC board on 28 March 2018
 ‘Draft Health Service Safety Investigations Bill’ published by the Department of Health in September 2017
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.
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.
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.