The Justice Committee’s report on Courts and Tribunal Fees has endorsed the proposal, made by the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information that the right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) under the Freedom of Information Act should be abolished. The Committee does not appear to have examined the case for this change itself. It simply reported that it saw no reason to disagree with the Commission’s view. The Campaign believes that if the proposal went ahead, it would significantly undermine the operation of the Act.
A Justice Committee report published today supports the abolition of the main right to appeal against the Information Commissioner’s decisions under the Freedom of Information Act. This would “seriously undermine the FOI Act” says the Campaign for Freedom of Information.
Today’s report from the Commission on Freedom of Information does not call for the severe restrictions that had initially seemed likely, according to the Campaign for Freedom of Information. The report sets out a mixture of proposals, many of which would enhance the FOI Act. However the Campaign says a proposal to remove the right of appeal against the Information Commissioner’s (IC’s) decisions to a specialist tribunal would undermine the Act’s enforcement system.
A statement issued last night by the Cabinet Office minister responsible for FOI, Matt Hancock, said the government “will not make any legal changes” to the FOI Act. The Campaign said this suggested that the Act would not be weakened.
The Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said: “The Commission has stepped back from the one sided agenda which the government initially appeared to set for it, of restricting access to internal policy discussions, introducing charges for requests and making it easier for authorities to refuse requests. Instead it has also looked at the case for improving the legislation. The government itself has clearly been scalded by the criticism it has received from the press and public and made it clear it’s not prepared to take its initial agenda forward. We now need to ensure that the Act is extended to contractors providing public services and bodies like the National Crime Agency which have been deliberately excluded.”
Information about prison attacks, penalty fares on London Overground, whistleblowing policies in the NHS and parking tickets has all been withheld under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act because this information was held by public authority contractors and not by the authorities themselves.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information is calling for the FOI Act to be extended to such information. It cites 10 examples of information about public services which has been withheld because of a loophole in the Act.
When: Monday 14th March 2016
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.
This practical 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, describes how to challenge unjustified refusals and highlights critical decisions of the Information Commissioner and Tribunal. The course’s interactive sessions will encourage you to work out how best to apply the Act in a variety of situations. The course is aimed at both beginners and those who are already using the Act but want to do so more effectively.
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 Commission on Freedom of Information
and the future of the FOI Act
2.30 pm Monday 30 November 2015
House of Commons, Committee Room 9
Tom Watson MP, Deputy Leader of the Opposition
The Rt Hon David Davis MP, Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden
Lord Tyler, Lib Dem, Constitutional & Political Reform Spokesperson
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.”
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.
21 Oct, 2 pm, Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA
The Campaign for Freedom of Information and ARTICLE 19 are holding a briefing meeting for NGOs and media organisations on the consultation paper published by the Commission on Freedom of Information. The consultation suggests the Commission is considering sweeping changes to restrict the FOI Act, including:
- imposing charges for requests
- making it easier to refuse requests on cost grounds
- making it more difficult to obtain public authorities’ internal discussions, or excluding some from access altogether
- strengthening ministers’ powers to veto disclosures
- changing the way the Act is enforced
The meeting is to brief organisations that are proposing to respond to the consultation. We strongly encourage you to do so drawing on your own experience of the value of the FOI Act.
If you would like to attend the meeting, please rsvp to email@example.com.
The deadline for responding to the consultation is 20 November 2015. The consultation paper is available from –