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The code of practice that underpins the Freedom of Information Act will be updated next year, the govnerment has confirmed.

In a document published as part of the UK’s Open Government Partnership, the Cabinet Office has confirmed the guidelines under Section 45 of the transparency law are being reviewed.

In “early 2017” a public consultation on a new Code of Practice will be issued. The Section 45 code has not been updated since the FOI Act was enacted in 2005.

The rewriting and the new Code will give those who say FOI should be wider reaching to extend obligations of public authorities responding to requests for information.

The current Section 45 Code of Practice lays out what FOI officers should do to help provide requesters with ‘advice and assistance’ under Section 16 of the FOI Act. “Authorities should, as far as reasonably practicable, provide assistance to the applicant to enable him or her to describe more clearly the information requested,” the code says.

The code also covers how authorities should transfer requests when they have not been sent to the correct place; confidentiality discussions: third parties and responses; as well a complaints procedures for FOI requests.

A well-revised, requester focussed Code of Practice could include timelines for public authorities to handle internal reviews, clarification on the time needed to process public interest test considerations and more. 

The government has previously said it will clarify how private contractors getting public money are to interact with FOI within the code.

Earlier this year the recommendations of government’s FOI review mentioned a revised Section 45 Code of Practice. “That the government reviews section 45 of the Act to ensure that the range of issues on which guidance can be offered to public authorities under the Code is adequate,” the recommendations said.

“The government should also review and update the Code to take account of the ten years of operation of the Act’s information access scheme.”

The review particularly singled out the Code of Practice should describe how authorities should use the vexatious (Section 14) provision within the FOI Act.

I am a journalist and author. I am a journalist at the UK edition of WIRED magazine. In 2015, my first book Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide for UK Journalists, was published. My second book Reed Hastings: Building Netflix, was published in March 2020. I created FOI Directory in 2012 and have maintained it in my spare time ever since.