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.
UPDATE 28/10/15: Lord Burns has replied to the Campaign’s letter below. The reply says that the statement was only intended to imply that individual contributions would be anonymised. The Commission has now removed the statement and promised it will publish the evidence it receives.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information has written to Lord Burns, chair of the Commission on Freedom of Information, expressing concern at the Commission’s proposal to anonymise any evidence that it cites in its report.
The government has replied to a joint letter to the Prime Minister sent by 76 organisations, calling on the government not to proceed with proposals to restrict the FOI Act. The letter, co-ordinated by the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said the proposals would allow many requests of substantial public interest to be refused regardless of the benefits of disclosure.
The Campaign has written to the Justice minister Lord McNally urging the government to drop its proposals to make it easier for public authorities to refuse FOI requests on costs grounds. The Campaign says the proposals are now redundant in light of recent decisions of the Upper Tribunal and new guidance published by the Information Commissioner which allow requests causing a disproportionate burden to be refused as vexatious.
Update 17/06/2013: Lord McNally has replied to the Campaign saying he agrees that recent case law on vexatious requests helps address the problem of disproportionately burdensome requests. The letter confirms the government is assessing the options to reduce the burden of FOI that were contained in its response to the Justice Committee’s post-legislative scrutiny of the FOI Act, before consulting on proposals later in the summer.
The Tribunal has agreed with a submission from the Campaign that the Information Commissioner was wrong to find that NHS bodies are prohibited from releasing information which they have supplied to the Health Service Ombudsman.
The Tribunal allowed the Campaign to take part in an appeal on this issue, despite the Information Commissioner’s objections. It accepted the Campaign’s arguments that a statutory bar on disclosure applied only to the Ombudsman and not to those supplying information to the Ombudsman. The Tribunal’s decision is available here
Updated October 2011.
This letter to the Deputy Commissioner, David Smith, raises a number of concerns about the Information Commissioner’s data protection guidance on ‘Access to Information Held in Complaints Files’. The Deputy Commission replied to the letter saying the Campaign’s comments would be taken into account should the guidance be revised.
The Campaign made two written submissions to the Protection of Freedoms Bill Committee. The first was a brief note setting out the Campaign’s views on the Bill. The second was a more detailed submission on the Bill’s provisions on “datasets”. This expressed concern that the measures to remove copyright restrictions on datasets could be easily circumvented and called for copyright to be removed from all information released under the FOI Act, not just datasets, where the public authority is the copyright holder and the information is not being commercially exploited by the authority. The Campaign also gave oral evidence to the Committee on 24 March 2011. You can watch a recording of the session here (starts at 10.05:20 am) or read a transcript of it here.
A short submission to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) on an aspect of the FOI Act’s public interest test. The submission argues that the public interest test can include the potential benefit from disclosure to the public in countries other than the UK and is not limited to the benefits to the UK public only, as the Information Commissioner has argued.
The Campaign has responded to a request from the UK Statistics Authority for its views on the adequacy of the Ministry of Justice’s freedom of information statistics. The response sets out a number of concerns about the quality of the statistics describing the delays by central government bodies in dealing with FOI requests.