PL&B FOI E-news, Issue 36

1. ICO urges public authorities to publish meeting minutes

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is demanding more transparency and asking public authorities to routinely publish minutes and agendas of public meetings, as well as minutes of senior-level policy and strategy meetings, for example, board meetings. In addition, organisations should make public any background documents which are referred to in the agenda or minutes.

Its new guidance, addressed to help public authorities understand FOI better, also provides advice on when it is not necessary to publish such information, for example, if the meeting took place more than three years ago.

The ICO reminds public authorities of their obligations to publish certain categories of information under a publication scheme. A model publication scheme is now available from the ICO.

The ICO has also published guidance to help public authorities considering FOI requests for information about deceased individuals. The two guides, published on 31 August, are:
Practical guidance – What should be published: Minutes and agendas: 

Technical Guidance Note - Access to information about the deceased.

2. Guidance on disclosing names of staff

The ICO has published guidance on when the names of staff, officials, elected representatives or third parties acting in a professional capacity should be released in response to a FOI request. The most important aspect is to consider what is fair to the individual in question.

Requests should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and review whether the information is about the person’s public role, and whether they could expect to be subject to public scrutiny. Would the disclosure cause damage or distress to the individual?

The technical guidance note on ‘Access to information about public authorities’ employees’ was published on 15 August.

3. Confidential papers on the new EU Accession States migrant scheme to be released

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ordered the release of Cabinet Office papers relating to a migrant scheme as a result of a FOI request. The papers were prepared for a Ministerial Working Group meeting in October 2005 which took the decision to continue the Accession States Worker Registration Scheme (WRS).

The ICO says that disclosing the information improves the general public’s understanding of this controversial decision, which gives the migrants from the Accession States the same employment and social rights as those from pre-existing EU countries.

The Cabinet Office had refused the request claiming that the papers were exempt from disclosure as the information relates to the formulation of government policy. Assistant Information Commissioner, Steve Wood, says, however, that the full reasons behind the Government’s decision are not widely known nor understood. He says that disclosing the information will not harm collective cabinet responsibility as it is unlikely that the views of individual Ministers can be identified from the papers.

The Decision Notice is published on 5 August.

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