Justice Committee recommendation would ‘seriously undermine FOI Act’

The House of Commons Justice Committee says that the right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) against an Information Commissioner’s FOI decision should be abolished.

The Justice Committee recommendation would 'seriously undermine FOI Act', the Campaign for Freedom of Information said. The recommendation was first made by the Commission on Freedom of Information chaired by Lord Burns. However, a right to appeal to the Upper Tribunal on a point of law would remain.

The Campaign points out that Commission’s own figures showed that 21% of FTT appeals by FOI requesters in 2014 were wholly or partly successful, leading to disclosure of wrongly withheld information. Depriving requesters of this right would weaken the public’s right to know, it says.

The Campaign’s director, Maurice Frankel, said: “In the last year or so the tribunal has ordered the Cabinet Office to disclose how members of the Chilcot inquiry into the invasion of Iraq were appointed. It has ordered the Department for Education to reveal payments to new sponsors taking over failing academy schools. It has told the Ministry of Defence it was wrong to withhold information about the failure to warn soldiers that they would get a criminal record if being convicted of minor disciplinary offences. It required the Ministry of Justice to identify landlords convicted of offences for letting dangerous or grossly substandard accommodation and has ordered authorities to release information about the contracting-out of public services – or decisions to keep them in-house. The right to challenge the Information Commissioner’s decisions is important and losing it would be a major blow.”