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Response to the Commission on Freedom of Information

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.
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Campaign responds to Chris Grayling’s FOI comments

The Campaign for Freedom of Information has responded to comments about the Freedom of Information Act made by Chris Grayling, Leader of the House, during Business Questions on 29 October 2015. Mr Grayling said the Act is being “misused” as “a research tool to generate stories for the media, and that is not acceptable”.

The Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said:

“The FOI Act exists to help hold government to account, improve the public’s understanding of what it does does, to show whether policies are working and identify where public services need to be improved. Journalists are key users of the Act for those purposes and no-one should be surprised if that involves producing ‘stories’. That’s how the public learns what is going on.

Mr Grayling says he’s in favour of people using FOI to understand why and how government takes decisions. But the government has just set up the Commission on FOI to consider measures to restrict access to information about the decision-making process. He should tell them to look at ways of opening the process up instead.”

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Proposed anonymous use of evidence by the Commission on FOI criticised

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.
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New consultation document confirms that sweeping restrictions to FOI being considered

Sweeping restrictions to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act are being considered by the body set up to consider the legislation, according to the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

After sitting for 3 months, the Commission on Freedom of Information, set up by the government this July, has today finally invited the public to submit evidence to it [1]. Its consultation document confirms that it is considering whether public authorities’ internal discussions should be made more difficult to obtain and whether ministers’ ability to veto disclosures should be strengthened. It is also considering changing the way the Act is enforced, which could reduce the public’s rights, and reducing the Act’s ‘burden’ on public authorities. Off the record briefings suggest this could include charging for FOI requests.
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140 press and campaign bodies urge PM not to weaken FOI Act

140 media bodies, campaign groups and others [1] have written to the Prime Minister expressing ‘serious concern’ at the government’s approach to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

The organisations are particularly concerned at the Commission on Freedom of Information, announced on July 17th this year. They say its terms of reference make clear that ‘its purpose is to consider new restrictions to the Act’ [2] and that there is no indication that it is expected to consider how the right of access might need to be improved.
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Response FOI Tribunal fees consultation

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.


Fees for FOI appeals

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.
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New FOI commission heralds “crackdown on the right to know”

A major attack on the public’s right to information is likely following the government’s announcement today of a new Commission to review the Freedom of Information Act, according to the Campaign for Freedom of Information. The Commission has been asked to consider whether new measures are needed to protect the government’s internal discussions from disclosure and to reduce the ‘burden’ of the FOI Act.

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FOI and policy advice

The Campaign has published this briefing explaining how the Information Commissioner and Tribunal have protected the ‘safe space’ and genuinely frank discussions from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
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Comments on draft transparency clause for government contracts

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.
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