Bermuda Adopts FOI Law

29 July 2010

Bermuda has approved a Freedom of Information law, according to news reports.

Premier Ewart Brown said an Information Commissioner would be appointed by the end of December and that the new  law will be implemented within two to three years.

Passage in Parliament July 23 culminated a multi-year effort that began in earnest around 2004.

“Today is the fulfillment of the government’s longstanding pledge to operate in the light of public scrutiny,” Brown said, as quoted in the Caribbean Daily News.  “We have always had a vision for Bermuda and the Public Access to Information (PATI) bill brings us closer to the Bermuda of our imagination.

Not everyone was quite as enthusiastic.

John Barritt, the United Bermuda Party’s spokesman on legislative and public administration reform, “praised government for its public consultation last year on the draft bill but said the legislation was not quite what his party wanted,” according to the Caribbean Daily News. The article also said:

He said the law will not apply to records held by the judiciary, the Auditor General, the Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Information Commissioner, the Office of the Ombudsman or the Department of Public Prosecutions, unless they relate to administration.

Barritt said there were too many exemptions and all bodies should be subject to freedom of information requests, unless there were state secrets involved or issues of national security at stake.

He unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to make exempt records accessible after 20, rather than 30, years.

Bermuda Democratic Alliance MP, Shawn Crockwell, said his party applauded the development, but raised concerns about the readiness of the Bermuda Archives to deal with requests for historical information. Premier Brown conceded that “challenges” in that department were partly to blame for the length of time implementation would take, the Caribbean Daily News said.

Shortly before passage, the scope of the bill was slightly expanded to allow requests by Bermudians and residents.

Toby Mendel, from the Centre for Law and Democracy in Canada, said the fact that the bill had the support of all three political parties was very promising. “It shows that there is a wide base of support for it and that augurs well for the challenging task ahead. That support is really, really important to make sure that it has a good chance of success at the implementation stage.” He was quoted in an article in the The Royal Gazette.  Mendel, who analyzed the draft legislation when it was first released last year and made a submission to government, said the final version appeared to be “a very, very strong draft”.

Also quoted was Wesley Gibbings, president of the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers.

“Access to information laws are now distinguishing features of most modern democracies,” he said. “They signal to civil society that official information is not the exclusive property of public officials. Attention must now turn to the quality of the legislation and how pervasive its popular usage will be. It is one thing to say you have such a law and quite another to reap a rich harvest from it in the public interest. I am concerned that years after the passage of such legislation in several Caribbean territories it is not among the most actively employed in the harnessing of public information.”

A commentary in The Royal Gazette praised a variety or people for helping get the law passed and lamented that it would take so long to get started.   The article said in part:

Former Premier Alex Scott deserves particular credit for having begun this initiative and having continued to push it once he had left office, but former head of the Central Policy Unit Warren Jones and especially Central Policy Unit analyst Kimberley Mckeown, who has been the unsung hero of this initiative within Government, also should take same praise. Outside of Government, United Bermuda Party MP John Barritt, who has given more thought and pushed harder for open government and transparency than anyone else in Bermuda in the last decade, deserves particular praise for pushing this initiative.

Be Sociable, Share!


Filed under: What's New