Government Commission to review Freedom of Information Act

30/07/2015

The government has announced a Commission on Freedom of Information (FOI) to review the way the FOA Act 2000 is working after more than a decade in operation. The government states that it “fully support[s]” this law but that it needs to make sure that it is working effectively. The Commission is chaired by Lord Burns, former permanent secretary at the Treasury and includes former Labour and Conservative Home Secretaries, Jack Straw and Michael Howard.

Maurice Frankel, Director, the Campaign for Freedom of Information states “the case for strengthening the legislation is not on the agenda.” In his view, the Commission will argue the case for restricting access by preventing the disclosure of government policy discussions, strengthening the ministerial veto, and reducing the Act’s ‘burden’ on public authorities.

The government is also proposing to introduce fees for appealing against the Information Commissioner’s FOI decisions to the tribunal. As was the case when fees for appeal to the employment tribunal were introduced, the introduction of fees is likely to cut the number of claims.  By making information public, FOI appeals generally seek to promote the public interest, so restrictions on the ability to appeal will affect the public interest.

The Prime Minister has also announced that, from 17 July 2015, responsibility for Freedom of Information policy has transferred from the Ministry of Justice to the Cabinet Office. This means that FOI policy is likely to be more directly influenced by the Prime Minister and also will split the Information Commissioner’s budget responsibility lines between his work on the Data Protection Act (Ministry of Justice) and the Freedom of Information Act (the Cabinet Office).

Further information: The government’s announcement: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/freedom-of-information-new-commission

The Campaign for Freedom of Information’s Stop FOI Restrictions web page: https://www.cfoi.org.uk/campaigns/stop-foi-restrictions/

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