Freedom of Information news, Issue 07
- Nearly one in five FOI requests to Central Government fail
- Lord Chancellor demands greater openness
- ICO finally publishes first FOI Decision Notices
- Government reviews prohibitions to disclosure
- Ability to deal with FOI requests varies greatly between Welsh local authorities
- Advice on access to information about public authorities’ employees
- Information Tribunal launches website
- First Scottish FoI decision
1. Nearly one in five FOI requests to Central Government fail
According to statistics produced by the Department of Constitutional Affairs, central government has withheld all the information requested in 18 % of FOI requests. The statistics, released on 23rd June, are based on monitoring 43 Central Government bodies, including all Departments of State. Statistics for the first three months of the new regime show that government bodies are still reluctant to provide information. Only half of the applicants received a full response.
2. Lord Chancellor demands greater openness
Lord Falconer of Thoroton has accused government departments of not replying to FOI requests quickly enough, and using exemptions where they should not be applied. The Lord Chancellor, who expressed his views at a FOI conference in London on 16th May, said that up to 200 laws need to be repealed to allow more information to be released.
The Lord Chancellor is of the view that the Government has not followed the spirit of FOIA. Information should be put into the public domain before it is even requested.
3. ICO finally publishes first FOI Decision Notices
The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, who has so far received more than 1000 FOI complaints, published the first Decision Notices on 15-16th May. Of the ten cases, the Commissioner upheld (fully or partly) seven complaints. Most of the complaints are made against local authorities, and relate to time limits, fees, or the failure to issue a refusal notice.
4. Government reviews prohibitions to disclosure
The Department of Constitutional Affairs (DCA) has published its assessment of statutory prohibitions on disclosure. The DCA has identified 210 statutory provisions that prohibit the disclosure of information under section 1 of the FOIA. Of these, roughly half will be retained, or they are still under review.
The full report can be found at www.foi.gov.uk
5. Ability to deal with FOI requests varies greatly between Welsh local authorities
A report looking at how Welsh local authorities are coping with the FOI requests reveals that all of them have a dedicated system for logging and tracking FOI requests. Some authorities, however, still do much of the work manually. The report, 'State of the Nation', released on 6th June, shows that some of the authorities have purchased bespoke software systems, while others rely on adapting existing databases and systems for managing FOI requests.
6. Advice on access to information about public authorities’ employees
The Information Commissioner (ICO) has published awareness guidance for public authorities on how to deal with FOI requests that seek access to information about their employees. Public authorities should first consider whether the information requested relates to the employee in a professional or private capacity. As a rule of thumb, senior officials should be prepared to have more information disclosed about them. Public authorities should also consider whether they have informed employees that their personal details may be released. All these issues should also be considered in the light of data protection legislation.
The guidance note, issued on 31st May 2005, can be accesses via the ICO website, www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk
7. Information Tribunal launches website
The Information Tribunal, which hears appeals under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Data Protection Act 1998, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003, and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, launched a website on 16th May.
The site provides useful information on how the Tribunal works, and procedural advice for appellants. The Information Tribunal does not have any FOI cases so far.
The Chairman of the Information Tribunal, Mr John Angel, spoke about the work of the Tribunal at the PL&B Annual International Conference at Cambridge on 4-6th July 2005. For further information on the Tribunal, see , www.informationtribunal.gov.uk
8. First Scottish FoI decision
The Scottish FoI Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, published his decision on 17th May that the operator of a safety camera system had failed to comply with Scotland’s FoI Act.
Mr L wrote to the Lothian & Borders Safety Camera Partnership asking to see the calibration certificate for equipment used in an alleged speeding offence. The information was eventually provided by the public authority after he lodged an application with the Scottish Information Commissioner.
The Partnership explained that it had mistakenly failed to mention that it relied on the exemption under section 25, namely that the information was otherwise accessible (on the Partnership’s website). In the Commissioner’s view, the fact that information was solely available on the website does not mean it was reasonable accessible to everybody in Scotland.
The Commissioner found that the authority had not dealt with the applicant’s request for information in accordance with the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.
Copyright Privacy Laws & Business 2005