The Campaign has welcomed the Justice Committee’s report on post-legislative scrutiny of the FOI Act, which rejects charging for FOI requests or new restrictions on access to policy discussions in Whitehall. The Campaign made two written submissions to the Committee and gave oral evidence at the Committee’s first hearing on 21 February 2012. You can watch a recording of the session or read an uncorrected transcript of it.
Our initial submission described some areas where the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations are not working as well as they should and suggested a number of improvements such as the introduction of statutory time limits for public interest extensions and internal reviews and the lifting of some absolute exemptions. It also addressed the contracting out of public authority functions to bodies which are not subject to the Act. Recent measures to encourage this process are likely to substantially undermine the public’s rights to information. Finally, it responded to suggestions that changes to the right of access may be introduced to protect cabinet papers, introduce fees for making requests or to make it easier for public authorities to refuse requests on costs grounds. The Campaign made a supplementary submission to the Committee addressing some of the points about the Act’s exemption for policy advice made by Lord O’Donnell and Jack Straw in their evidence to the Committee. This supplementary submission also provided examples of excessive or wasteful spending revealed by FOI, which suggest the Act is likely to play an important role in exposing and deterring excessive spending, which is generally not taken into account when assessing the ‘costs’ of FOI.
Response to the Cabinet Office’s ‘Making Open Data Real’ consultation. The response emphasises the extent to which the government’s vision of improvements to accountability, service quality, efficiency, choice and citizen empowerment depend on the FOI Act, since (a) although data may highlight discrepancies in performance, the broader right of access provided by the FOI Act is needed to understand what is behind them and (b) the ‘right to data’ proposals are being implemented for public authorities by amendments to the FOI Act itself. It also points out that both the FOI Act and open data proposals will be undermined by the contracting out provisions of the Health and Social Care Bill and the Localism Bill. Finally, it argues that the abuse of copyright restrictions, which the government’s amendments address, is not restricted to datasets but applies to ordinary disclosures under the FOI Act.
This response comments on the Ministry of Justice’s Call for Evidence on the Current Data Protection Legislative Framework. It highlights the substantial discrepancies between the rights of individuals to see their own personal data under the Data Protection Act and the rights of any member of the public to obtain official information under the Freedom of Information Act. It also deals with an apparent obstacle to the release under the FOI Act of anonymised statistics derived from personal data.
Response to the Ministry of Justice ‘Freedom of Information Act 2000: Designation of additional public authorities’ consultation paper.
The response welcomes the government’s decision to consider extending the FOI Act to some of the private sector and other bodies which are capable of being designated under section 5 of the Act. It calls for a significant increase in the scope of the Act, matched by an appropriate increase in the funding of the Information Commissioner’s office.
The Campaign has submitted a formal response to the Department for Constitutional Affairs about the proposed changes to the fees regulations under the FOI Act. This sets out serious concerns about the damaging effects of the proposals and calls on the government to honour a ministerial commitment to carry out a proper public consultation before changing the regulations.
The Campaign has responded to a preliminary HSC/E consultation on proposals to amend the statutory prohibition on disclosure in section 28 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The Campaign has published its response to the consultation by the Lord Chancellor’s Department on the subject access provisions of the Data Protection Act. It is calling for people to have the right (a) to know when information has been withheld from them under one of the DPA exemptions; (b) to be able to appeal to the Information Tribunal against decisions of the Information Commissioner, and (c) for the DPA exemptions to be made subject to a public interest test.
The Campaign’s response welcomes the new draft Environmental Information Regulations as a substantial improvement on the existing Regulations and the Freedom of Information Act. However, it identifies a number of other areas where the proposals fall short of the FOI Act, and calls for these to be improved.
The Campaign’s response to the draft code of practice to be issued by the Lord Chancellor under section 45 of the Freedom of Information Act. The code is intended to set out “desirable” practice under the Act. One of the Commissioner’s duties will be to promote compliance with it.
Update 11/03/2002: Since the Campaign’s original response to the draft code of practice to be issued under section 45 of the Freedom of Information Act, a more recent version has become available. These further comments address the changes that have been made in the revised version.