Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Freedom of Information and rejected honours

The Campaign for Freedom of Information has written to The Times responding to an article by Matthew Parris on the recent disclosure of the names of those who had refused honours under the FoI Act in which he argued that "the advance of Freedom of Information should be reversed...Otherwise FoI could have the reverse effect to what its proposers intended, driving the important information back into the closet."

The letter was published in The Times on 31 January 2011.
Sir, Bewilderingly, Matthew Parris seizes on the disclosure of the names of those refusing honours to call for the Freedom of Information Act to be restricted (‘Back to scrawled notes and secret whispers’, Jan 28). He suggests that Whitehall may now be discussing how to avoid recording this information to prevent such sensitive releases in future. That is most unlikely.

The requester had merely asked for the names of deceased persons who had refused honours, the awards involved and the dates. No information about anyone still living, no correspondence and no internal Whitehall discussions were sought. Where significant research might have been needed to establish if someone had died, the requester proposed that the names should simply be withheld, to avoid the work. The Information Commissioner ruled that refusals within the last ten years should not be disclosed, even though those concerned were deceased.

The FOI principle is that information should be released unless disclosure is harmful. What is the harm here? No living individual’s privacy has been infringed. No civil servant’s advice has been revealed. No time-consuming inquiries have had to be made. No-one thought worthy of an honour will now be denied it and no-one inclined to reject an honour will now feel obliged to accept it.

Maurice Frankel
Director, Campaign for Freedom of Information

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Briefing on the future of the FOI Act

2 pm Wednesday 18 January 2012

Campaign for Freedom of Information, 16 Baldwins Gardens, London EC1N 7RJ

The Freedom of Information Act is being reviewed by a parliamentary committee which is likely to recommend changes to the law. This could be an important opportunity to improve the Act. But there will also be significant pressure for new restrictions from public authorities concerned about the cost of dealing with FOI requests or lobbying for new exemptions.

If you would like to contribute to the exercise, it is important to act quickly. The deadline for submitting evidence to the committee is 3 February 2012. The Campaign for Freedom of Information is holding a briefing meeting on January 18 at 2 pm for those who are considering giving evidence.

This ‘post legislative scrutiny’ of the Act is being carried out by Justice select committee of the House of Commons.[1] It has been prompted by the Ministry of Justice which has published a memorandum[2] highlighting specific areas of concern, including:

· Increasing request volumes
· The cost to public authorities and impact on resources
· The difficulty in refusing vexatious requests
· The level of protection given to policy advice and cabinet papers
· The impact on public authorities with commercial functions

The memorandum also:

· Acknowledges delays can occur in conducting public interest tests and carrying out internal reviews
· Discusses the possible extension of the Act to other bodies.

The memorandum says there is “limited evidence” about requesters’ views on the Act. It is therefore important that the select committee hears from requesters and we strongly encourage you to submit evidence about your experiences.

If you would like to attend the Campaign’s briefing meeting on January 18 please rsvp by email to admin@cfoi.demon.co.uk, via Twitter @CampaignFOI or by telephoning the office on 020 7831 7477. We would be grateful if you could circulate details of the meeting to any colleagues or contacts you think may interested.

Notes

[1] http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/news/foi-announce/
[2] http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/policy/moj/post-legislative-scrutiny-foi.htm

Monday, January 09, 2012

Course on Scottish Information Commissioner Decisions

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland is providing a half-day training course on 'Scottish Information Commissioner Decisions' in Glasgow on 20 March 2012 and Aberdeen on 21 March 2012.

The course is aimed at FOI practitioners and those with a good working knowledge of the legislation. It highlights the latest developments in the way the exemptions, public interest test and the legislation's procedural requirements are being interpreted. The course is presented by the Campaign's direction, Maurice Frankel, who has worked in the field for 27 years. It will cover the most significant decisions issued since our last course in February 2011.

While the course will focus on the significant decisions issued by the Scottish Information Commissioner since the last course, it will also cover significant Court of Session rulings and decisions issued by the UK Tribunal that have implications for Scottish public authorities.

The course represents extremely good value for money. The course fee has remained the same since 2006, and significant discounts are available for more than one booking from the same organisation.