Lexis 200 wide

Raise £5 for charity in 15 minutes.

Complete this short survey and LexisNexis will donate £5 to the International Rescue Committee. We want to find out more about the daily challenges you face when drafting and reviewing legal documents.

The weblink to the survey is: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/HMSP8QF

FOI under scrutiny PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 20 June 2012 00:00

Parliament iStock 000002379030XSmall 146x219What changes will the post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act bring? Ibrahim Hasan considers the most likely recommendations. 

Last year the Justice Select Committee, chaired by Sir Alan Beith, launched a call for written evidence for its post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI). The Committee invited written evidence on the following issues (although those responding were free to discuss other matters):

  • Does the Freedom of Information Act work effectively?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Freedom of Information Act?
  • Is the Freedom of Information Act operating in the way that it was intended to?

The Committee has now finished hearing oral evidence. Its website contains more details including dates of hearings as well as uncorrected transcripts of evidence. Whilst much has been written and submitted to the Committee about what changes the Government should make to the FOI regime, some changes are more likely to be recommended by it than others:

1. A new exemption for frivolous requests

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has told the Committee (and the Solicitors in Local Government Weekend School) that it would be in favour of an exemption being introduced to alleviate the burden of frivolous requests e.g. for zombie invasion plans

My view is that this is a sacrificial lamb being offered by the ICO to try and deflect some of the recent criticism directed towards it. Public authorities have claimed that the ICO is not doing enough to help them at a time when they are being inundated with nuisance requests that clearly have no purpose or value. However the Committee may feel it needs to go further to address such concerns.

2. A change to the costs regime

Many of those that have responded to the Committee’s call for evidence, have expressed concern about the sheer cost of dealing with FOI requests, although the basis of calculation of some of the figures seem highly dubious. It is likely that changes are made to allow more activities to be included as part of the costs limit of £450/£600 limit (under the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004) including perhaps the time it takes to redact exempt information from a document before disclosing the latter.

It seems that the Government is already pre judging the outcome of the Committee’s report. According to a BBC Newsnight report on 5 April 2012, a new fees regime could be introduced to reduce the number of FOI requests. Different tariffs could be used to charge different types of requestors. For more on this read Jonathan Baines excellent guest post for the Save FOI Blog.

3. A new Cabinet minutes exemption

The previous Government has on two occasions used the ministerial veto (under section 53) to exempt disclosure of cabinet minutes. On 24 February 2009 the then Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw, issued the first ever ministerial veto (See Cabinet Office and Christopher Lamb v IC (EA/2008/0024 & 0029)) when the Tribunal decided to uphold the ruling by the Information Commissioner that minutes of cabinet meetings from 2003 discussing the Iraq War should be disclosed. On 10 December 2009, Mr Straw did the same again in respect of a decision of the Commissioner (Cabinet Office FS50100665) requiring disclosure of minutes of the Cabinet Ministerial Committee on devolution to Scotland and Wales and the English Regions in 1997.

Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, also used the veto to block release of Cabinet Minutes relating to Scottish and Welsh Devolution. Recently the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, caused controversy when he used the veto to block access to the NHS Risk Register. On each occasion the veto has been used, the Commissioner has issued a report to Parliament expressing disappointment. However recently he has said that if the Government feels strongly about Cabinet Minutes being kept secret then an absolute exemption should be introduced. Bearing in mind what the Prime Minister and Lord O’Donnell (the former head of the civil service) have said about FOI recently, this is a strong possibility.

4. Other possible changes

Looking at the various submissions to the Committee, especially those from the ICO, it is also likely that statutory limits for Internal Reviews and the public interest test are recommended to avoid delays in dealing with requests. It may also be recommended that now FOI has bedded in, the role of the Qualified Person (under section 36) be removed so that there is no delay in Refusal Notices being issued where this exemption is claimed.

The Committee is due to report before the Summer Recess of Parliament.

Ibrahim Hasan is a solicitor and director of Act Now Training.

Watch a range of courses presented by Ibrahim on Local Government Law TV.

 

Latest News

July 24, 2014

Community council rapped for failure to help non-Welsh speakers follow meetings

A community council in Wales has been criticised for failing to provide ways for English speakers to follow its proceedings and for unreasonably preventing a resident from attending its meetings. Read more
July 24, 2014

Leadership of borough council in North West pursue unitary status

Chorley Borough Council’s leadership wants to break away from Lancashire and become a unitary. Read more
July 23, 2014

Government intervention in Doncaster to end early after good progress made

Government intervention at Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council is to end almost a year early in recognition of progress made in tackling its problems. Read more
July 21, 2014

Audit Commission hits out at burden of proposed audit regulations for parishes

The Government’s proposed new auditing arrangements will “place a much greater burden on parish councils and their clerks than the Government intends”, the Audit Commission has warned. Read more
July 21, 2014

Law Commission urges full reform project on data sharing and public bodies

The Law Commission has this month recommended that a full law reform project should be carried out “in order to create a principled and clear legal structure for data sharing, which will meet the needs of society”. Read more
July 18, 2014

County council loses High Court battle over library provision changes

A High Court judge has quashed a county council’s planned changes to its library services provision. Read more

 

Features

Data protection iStock 000011177922XSmall 146X219
July 24, 2014

Data protection, compulsory audit and the NHS

Mandatory ICO data protection audits are likely to be introduced for the NHS by the end of the year. Claire Bentley, Emma Godding and Jane Bennett look at the background and the key issues. Read more
council chamber1
July 10, 2014

Council meetings – lights, cameras, action!

New regulations come into force at the end of this month, leaving local authorities with less than 28 days in which to prepare for their meetings being filmed, tweeted or blogged. Olwen Dutton explains the changes. Read more
June 26, 2014

Speaking up

The High Court ruled earlier this year in a case where a non-planning councillor spoke at a planning committee meeting. Mary Tate examines the ruling. Read more
June 12, 2014

Data protection and child protection

Christopher Knight examines a strike-out application made by a number of local authorities over claims that they held inaccurate and damaging information about the claimant. Read more
May 27, 2014

Code of conduct v freedom of expression

The High Court recently cut the disqualification period imposed on a Welsh councillor. Nicholas Dobson considers the lessons to be learned from the case for local authorities in England as well as Wales. Read more
May 22, 2014

Legal professional privilege and the EIRs

Robin Hopkins anaylses a recent Upper Tribunal ruling on the interplay between legal professional privilege and the Environmental Information Regulations. Read more
May 22, 2014

Co-operating for mutual benefit

Ben Sheppard looks at how the Government is making it easier to set up and run co-operative and community benefit societies, as part of its drive to encourage the contribution of mutuals to the UK economy. Read more

 

 

Knowledge Bank

May 18, 2012

Managing in a Political Environment

Author: Nicholas Dobson, Freeth Cartwright This paper outlines the changing role of the local government lawyer in the context of the legal, political and constitutional framework of local government. This paper looks at the legal powers that underpin the role of local authorities, including the…
April 19, 2012

General Power of Confidence – ‘A New Hope’?

Author: Nicholas Dobson, Freeth Cartwright The general power of competence has been designed to give councils the confidence to act, using the power as their primary tool, without needing to refer back to central government. The question is: will the new power deliver?
March 27, 2012

Predetermination and Bias - Can Careless Talk Still Cost Decisions?

Author: Nicholas Dobson, Freeth Cartwright Ministers entered government much exercised about the law surrounding predetermination. In the opinion of some, this was a conspiracy by local government lawyers to undermine the democratic process. And they were going to have none of it! The 2010…
March 15, 2012

Recent developments in freedom of information

Author: Anya Proops, 11KBW The body of jurisprudence relating to freedom of information has continued to develop apace over the last year. The exponential growth in appeals being heard by both the first-tier and upper tribunals has meant that practitioners are having to work ever harder to keep…

Older news and features

June 26, 2014

Speaking up

Click here for full section archive

Banner

Featured Jobs


CLICK HERE to search all current vacancies

Featured Courses & Events

50% off LGLtv subscriptions

Sign up for Courses and Events Updates

* indicates required

Services v2

Yellow pages iStock 000009762383XSmall cropTo access details of individual advertisers, please click on the relevant banner below.

To search all entries in the Local Government Lawyer Services Directory, please click here

 

 


 Shout_to_the_top_looking_left_iStock_000006002590XSmall_98x74 Latest Blog Posts

 

 


 

Ballot_iStock_000006080605XSmall_thumb

Snap Judgement

Will the SRA's decision to remove the 16 hour minimum training requirement...