PL&B FOI E-news, Issue 31

1. Consultation on 30-year rule

In order to extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act, the Government is now considering and consulting on whether it should change the so called 30-year rule, which is commonly used to describe the point at which records created by Government departments are transferred to The National Archives, and at which time most of these records are released to the public.

The Public Records Act requires Government departments to transfer records to The National Archives by the time they are 30 years old, and the Freedom of Information Act requires most records to be released to the public by the time they are 30 years old.

A review panel, which will report back to the Prime Minister by summer 2008, has been appointed to consider how to strike the balance between more openness and how long, in the interests of good governance and national security, state papers need to be kept closed. Evidence will be gathered by consulting previous administrations and political figures, users of the records, including the research community, the media and the public, government departments and agencies and others identified by the panel.

A public consultation runs until 29 February 2008

2. ICO orders release of Ministerial advice on Manchester United takeover

The Information Commissioner has ruled that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) must release documents relating to the takeover of Manchester United Football Club. DCMS said it did indeed hold the information relevant to the request, but declined to release it, as the disclosure would compromise the ongoing formulation of Government policy around the issue of competition in football club takeovers. They also said that the documents contained information relating to legal advice given to Government officials.

The Information Commissioner noted that the FOI request was made after the policy formulation and development process had effectively ended. The Commissioner was of the view that disclosure of advice given by Government officials in this case would not inhibit them from giving frank advice, but that there was a strong public interest argument.

The Decision Notice (Reference: FS50121684) of 3rd December 2007 is available on the ICO website.

3. PL&B Consultation on extending the Freedom of Information Act to companies

The Ministry of Justice is consulting, until February 1st, on extending the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to private sector companies carrying out public sector tasks or for public sector bodies. Such an extension would have a major impact on the companies coming under the FOIA including:

having to assess the areas in which for your company this extension of the FOIA becomes a risk and/or an opportunity.
a cultural change of increased transparency resulting from having to respond to requests on many aspects of your operations
needing to appoint staff to handle the requests likely from competitors, journalists, consumers, environmentalists and other interest groups.
Much depends on how the government decides to extend the FOIA and several options are presented in the consultation document: consultation on FOI section 5 - Freedom of Information Act 2000: Designation of additional public authorities.  

To discuss this extension of the FOIA, Privacy Laws & Business has organized a consultation meeting in London on the morning of 21st January to gather business views on the various options presented by the government and send them to the Ministry of Justice. This schedule allows enough time for you to study the consultation paper, PL&B to write a draft response, check it with the participants, and submit it the Ministry of Justice before February 1st.

Fee: No fee for subscribers to Privacy Laws & Business newsletters and a fee of £100 + VAT for others.

Register by e-mail: email with “FOI Consultation” in the subject line.

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Copyright Privacy Laws & Business 2008