The Department for Constitutional Affairs has launched a consultation on its proposed restrictions to the Freedom of Information Act.
It is entirely right that a reasonable amount of money and time is
spent dealing with requests for information. However, in light of
experience, we feel that the existing provisions need to be extended to
make sure public authorities can strike the right balance between
access to information for all and the delivery of other public
services. (Baroness Ashton, Department for Constitutional Affairs)
The issue of costs is a red herring, so it is a pity that the Government’s narrowly-drawn questionnaire largely assumes this approach is the right one and concentrates merely on the details of implementation.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information has neverthless welcomed the consultation, which the Government had previously resisted, while launching a scathing attack on the proposed regulations.
“These changes strike right at the heart of the Act, which is that the basis for decisions should be the public interest, not authorities’ interests. Under the proposals, the more substantial the public interest issue raised by someone’s request, the more likely it will be to be refused, because the time authorities spend considering the issues will count against it. But the benefit of disclosure will be ignored. Requests could be refused once their costs exceeded a set threshold even if disclosure would reveal that public safety was being endangered, public money was being squandered or an authority was acting unlawfully. The government is taking a scythe to its own Act.” (Maurice Frankel, Director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information)
The consultation period ends on 8 March, which conveniently falls after the 23 February closing date for the petition against the changes on the Downing Street website. At the time of writing, the petition has 594 signatures. If you haven’t already, (and are a British citizen or resident) I appeal to you to sign up.