Newspaper editors and campaigners have warned the government against reviving plans to weaken Freedom of Information laws (FoIs).
The Freedom of Information Act gives any member of the public the right to access recorded information held by a public sector organisation. Anyone can request information – there are no restrictions on your age, nationality or where you live. An organisation can refuse a request if the information is sensitive or the costs are too high.
If a FoI request is refused by a public sector organisation like Horsham District Council, the member of the public can ask for an ‘internal review’. If this still results in a refusal to disclose recorded information, he/she can appeal to a first tier tribunal with the Information Commissioner(IC). If that approach fails it is possible to take the IC to a final tribunal.
The Society of Editors and the Freedom of Information Campaign are worried that ministers may end the right of appeal to a tribunal if the Information Commissioner (IC) blocks releases. Last year the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information, led by Lord Burns, recommended the ending of the right to appeal to the ‘first tier tribunal’. In its response in March the government said it would consider the proposal, which would save time and money.
The fact is that one in five cases that went to the initial tribunal stage resulted in a successful appeal from the IC and this chance would be lost.
At Horsham District Council, we have seen how when some members of the public have submitted FoIs HDC has accused them of being ‘vexations’ and refused to answer their FoI.
Our Horsham MP Jeremy Quin must ensure that the government of which he is a member (as a PPS) does not curtail the public’s right to ask for information from public bodies such as HDC.
Parry Close, Horsham
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