The government is planning to make it easier for responses to Freedom of Information requests to be denied, limiting the amount of requests that will be answered.
Journalists, newspapers, campaign groups, bloggers and active members of communities will all restricted by the number of requests they can make as a direct result of this their ability to hold public authorities to account, scrutinise their decisions and even receive basic information will be damaged.
Plans by the Government is set to erode the need for public authorities to reply to ‘industrious’ Freedom of Information Act requests. This may prohibit individuals, or organisations who make multiple requests to a single authority from making more than one request to the same authority. In addition it will be easier for authorities to refuse requests as the Government look to add the ‘thinking time’ for civil servants replying to requests into the time limits that govern the act.
It is time to defend the Freedom of Information act in order to stop the public’s right to know from being taken away.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information, who argued for introduction and progression of the act, are holding a briefing into the future of FOI.
The briefing takes place this coming Monday, at 2pm.
The Campaign say.
At the moment, authorities can refuse requests if they estimate that the cost of finding and extracting the information exceeds certain limits, currently £600 for government departments or £450 for other authorities. The government wants to allow them to also include the cost of considering the request anddeleting exempt information. New or complex issues, which are always likely to require significant consideration time, may be refused on cost grounds in the future, without the substantive issue ever being addressed.
The government is also proposing to allow unrelated requests from one person or group of people to the same authority to be refused if their number is overly burdensome. This may involve resuscitating the Blair government’s proposal to allow unrelated requests to be refused if their combined cost exceeded the limit for a single request. Local newspapers, which cover a range of different issues involving the same authority, could be among the first casualties of this proposal. The government is also considering reducing the cost limit itself.
Ministers are also considering introducing charges for appealing to the Information Rights Tribunal – a measure likely to discourage many appeals from being made.
For more background information on the changes click here.
Date: Monday 18th February 2013
Address: The Human Rights Action Centre
17-25 New Inn Yard
London EC2A 3EA