We welcome the introduction of a draft access to information strategy, particularly as recent ICO strategic documents such as the ‘Information Rights Strategic Plan 2017-2021’ and the ‘Regulatory Action Policy’ primarily reflect a data protection perspective even though they apply to the full range of the ICO’s functions including FOI. We are extremely pleased to see access to information now being dealt with in its own terms.
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.
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.
A new legal block on the disclosure of information about NHS safety investigations will fuel public suspicion of cover-ups and protect poor quality inquiries from scrutiny, says the Campaign for Freedom of Information.
The Department of Health has proposed new arrangements for investigating serious hospital safety incidents. The aim is to encourage staff to speak frankly to investigators about mistakes they may have made without fear of being victimised. As a result, only the investigation report could be published. A new legal prohibition on disclosure would prevent the actual evidence obtained by investigators from being released under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. A hospital would not be able to release it voluntarily even if it wanted to and Parliament would not be able to obtain it either.
The Campaign has published an updated version of its response to the Commission on Freedom of Information, which it has also sent to the Commission. Its original submission contained a survey of Tribunal decisions which at that time was incomplete. The updated version contains the complete survey.
The Campaign has responded to a Ministry of Justice consultation proposing the introduction of fees for appeals against decisions of the Information Commissioner to the First-tier Tribunal.
We do not support the proposal. We think the proposed fees, of £100 for a case determined on the papers and £600 for an appeal involving an oral hearing, will deter many requesters from pursuing potentially successful appeals under the Freedom of Information Act or Environmental Information Regulations. It will be the public, and in particular, the public interest in the accountability of public authorities, that will be damaged.
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 Campaign has commented on proposals for a draft transparency clause produced by the Crown Commercial Service, a Cabinet Office agency. The clause is intended to be included in an updated version of the Model Services Contract which is designed for use by government departments when procuring services. The Government is committed in the Open Government Partnership National Action Plan 2013-2015 (see commitment 12) to introduce such standard transparency clauses into government contracts and to draw them up in consultation with civil society organisations and business.
The Campaign has responded to a consultation on behalf of the Senior President of Tribunals on the proposal to allow some Freedom of Information Act appeals against decisions of the Information Commissioner to be dealt with by a single judge sitting alone rather than, as at present, by a judge and two lay members.
The Campaign has responded to a consultation reviewing the statutory bar in section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 which prohibits the disclosure of information supplied to the Home Office in applications to use animals in scientific research. The Campaign welcomes the proposed removal of the bar. But it opposes plans to replace it by a narrower prohibition on the disclosure of information about researchers, research locations and intellectual property. It says the FOI exemptions adequately protect such information already. An absolute bar would prevent disclosure even where it would not be harmful or would be in the public interest. However, the Campaign has said that it does not object to a proposed a new offence for malicious disclosures made with the intention of causing harm or for personal gain.