Monday, October 29, 2012

ICO publishes new FOI/EIR guidance

The following guidance has recently been published by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

Requests for personal data about public authority employees (Version 1.1, 25/10/2012)

The course of justice and inquiries exception (regulation 12(5)(b)) (Version 1, 12/10/2012)

Requests formulated in too general a manner (regulation 12(4)(c)) (Version 1, 11/10/2012)

Freedom of Information legislation and research information: guidance for the higher education sector (Version 3, 04/10/2012)

Determining whether information is held (Version 1, 21/09/2012

How sections 23 and 24 interact (Version 1, 26/09/2012)

Security bodies (Section 23) (Version 1, 10/09/2012 or 09/10/2012)

Safeguarding national security (Section 24) (Version 1, 10/09/2012 or 09/10/2012)

Unfortunately, the ICO does not always stick to a uniform date format. In most of the above publications it has used yyyy/mm/dd but for at least one - the guidance on 'The course of justice and inquiries exception' - it switched to yyyy/dd/mm. This means it's not always possible to determine the exact publication date.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Criticism for government veto over release of Prince Charles' lobbying correspondence

The government's decision to veto the disclosure of Prince Charles' correspondence lobbying ministers was criticised by the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

The Campaign's director Maurice Frankel said:

"This is the first time the government has vetoed a decision of the Upper Tribunal under the FOI Act. The previous vetoes have applied either to the Information Commissioner or the First Tier Tribunal. 

The Upper Tribunal heard from constitutional experts on both sides of the argument. It set out detailed, cogent, clearly argued reasons for its decision over a 65 page ruling. If the Upper Tribunal is wrong, the government would be able to challenge and overturn its decision in the Court of Appeal. It is choosing not to go down this route but to veto the decision instead, which suggests it is not confident of its ability to win the argument in law. 

The Upper Tribunal concluded that the Prince's lobbying on behalf of various charitable causes did not fall under the constitutional convention designed to educate the heir to the throne to become monarch. He is trying to change government policy, not learn about it. 

The convention is subject to a strict rule of confidentiality: neither side reveals what has taken place. The Upper Tribunal found that Prince Charles had disclosed information about his lobbying activities for use in Jonathan Dimbleby's biography of him. It points out that if Prince Charles himself considered these exchanges to be subject to the convention, he would not have disclosed them. 

The decision to exercise the veto is judicially reviewable. If the Guardian newspaper goes for judicial review, the government will still have to justify its decision in court."

Full press release here.

Updated 17/10/12: The Guardian newspaper which made the FOI request in this case has confirmed it intends to judicially review the Attorney General's decision.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Shadow Justice Secretary says Labour will protect & extend FOI

In a speech at the Labour Party conference on 3 October, the Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan MP, said:
And it’s also time to address a blind spot in our Freedom of Information laws I’m proud Labour introduced FoI, however awkward it can be. Not only will the next Labour Government protect FoI, but we will seek to extend it. For the first time, FoI will cover the delivery of public services by private companies. This includes our prisons, our schools and our health service. Public private or voluntary, subjected to the same disinfecting transparency of FoI.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information welcomed the announcement. In a statement it said:
As contracting out of public services expands, the public's right to information shrinks. The Act only applies to information which a public authority holds about a contract or which it can compel a contractor to supply to it - which may be very little. And there's no point complaining to the Information Commissioner about a contractor who behaves obstructively. The Commissioner has no jurisdiction over contractors at all. Labour's commitment to address these issues is very welcome.
Read the speech in full here.