Friday, February 29, 2008

FOI opens up government to scrutiny

Robert Verkaik
The Independent
29 February 2008
What sort of right-to-know laws do we want for Britain? Should they be limited to the disclosure of information already deemed fit for public consumption or should the scope of the Freedom of Information Act force public authorities to give up documents and correspondence that might embarrass or damage the reputation of public figures and the offices they hold?

..this week the tide seems to have turned in favour of those who want to see the legislation used to uncover unpalatable truths about those who govern us. Two important rulings, one by the Information Commissioner and the other by the Information Tribunal, have extended the scope of the Act and dealt a blow to those who would prefer Britain to remain a secret state.

Ministers and the Commons' authorities are now considering their options. The Commons may look to the High Court to overturn the tribunal decision.

Ministers may wish to take their battle to the Information Tribunal which has the power to overturn Mr Thomas's decision on Cabinet minutes. But that is not the end of it. The Labour architects of the Freedom of Information Act must have known there might come a time when the Government would be ordered to disclose material that it would not wish to make public during its term of office. So the Act makes provision for government intervention by allowing ministers to deploy an all-trumping veto.

When that day comes, and it hasn't happened in the first three years of the legislation, we will know the true limits of Freedom of Information in this country.
Read the full article

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