The Independent Commission on Freedom of Information has issued a call for evidence, including on whether controls are needed to reduce the burden on of FOI on public authorities.
The Commission said its terms of reference – as set out by the Cabinet Office – required it to look carefully at the implications for the Freedom of Information Act 2000 of the uncertainty around the Cabinet veto, and at the practical operation of the Act as it has developed over the last ten years in respect of the deliberative space afforded to public authorities.
“The Commission is also interested in the balance between transparency and the burden of the Act on public authorities more generally,” it added.
The Commission set out six questions as part of the call for evidence:
- Question 1: What protection should there be for information relating to the internal deliberations of public bodies? For how long after a decision does such information remain sensitive? Should different protections apply to different kinds of information that are currently protected by sections 35 and 36?
- Question 2: What protection should there be for information which relates to the process of collective Cabinet discussion and agreement? Is this information entitled to the same or greater protection than that afforded to other internal deliberative information? For how long should such material be protected?
- Question 3: What protection should there be for information which involves candid assessment of risks? For how long does such information remain sensitive?
- Question 4: Should the executive have a veto (subject to judicial review) over the release of information? If so, how should this operate and what safeguards are required? If not, what implications does this have for the rest of the Act, and how could government protect sensitive information from disclosure instead?
- Question 5: What is the appropriate enforcement and appeal system for freedom of information requests?
- Question 6: Is the burden imposed on public authorities under the Act justified by the public interest in the public’s right to know? Or are controls needed to reduce the burden of FoI on public authorities? If controls are justified, should these be targeted at the kinds of requests which impose a disproportionate burden on public authorities? Which kinds of requests do impose a disproportionate burden?
The call for evidence can be viewed here. Responses must be received by midnight on 20 November 2015.