Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Campaign highlights changes to S45 Code that contravane ministerial commitments

The Campaign for FOI has written to Lord Falconer expressing concern at the
revised s 45 code which, unlike its predecessor, now contravenes two
ministerial commitments to Parliament. See: http://www.cfoi.org.uk/

Main points from CFOI:

Time limits
The first edition of the code published in November 2002 did indeed reflect this commitment. It stated

Public authorities should aim to make all decisions within 20 working days, including incases where a public authority needs to consider where the public interest lies in respect of an application for exempt information. However, it is recognised there will be some instances where it will not be possible to deal with such an application within 20 working days.”

This passage has been omitted from the 2nd edition of the code published last week.

There is now no suggestion that authorities should attempt to deal with such requests within 20 working days where possible. Nor is this point reflected in the DCA’s guidance on requests, which merely states that where the public interest test is involved the 20 day limit is “is extended by a ‘reasonable period’.

Accepting information in confidence

The first edition of the code contained such a statement. It said:
“A public authority should only accept information from third parties in confidence if it is necessary to obtain that information in connection with the exercise of any of the authority’s functions and it would not otherwise be provided.”

This passage, which expressly reflected your commitment in Parliament, has now been
dropped from the code. The two tests contained in that passage - that the information should be necessary to for theauthority’s functions and would not be provided without confidentiality - discourage authorities from entering into casual commitments of confidentiality. They are helpful, reflect the spirit of the Act and encourage a more rigorous approach to confidentiality.

There is alo an article in the Scotsman "Revised Information Act Code 'Breaks Ministerial Pledges'"


Julian said...

How does this relate to S10(1) which mentions 20 working days in the Act itself?

Anonymous said...

Section 10(3) applies, to quote the IC guidance:

"There is a provision in the Act, at section 10(3), which allows the 20 working day time limit to be extended to a ‘reasonable’ time, where the authority is required to apply the public interest test, because one of the ‘qualified’ exemptions2 applies. However, the authority must inform the applicant in its Refusal Notice if it needs more time to consider the public interest in disclosure and must give an estimate of the date by which it expects to make its decision."

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