UK Commissioner Counsels Against Weakening FOI Act

21 January 2016

The United Kingdom’s information commissioner testified Jan. 20 against making changes to the freedom of information act.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham appeared at the first day of hearing sponsored by special commission considering whether to amend the law, particularly to provide more protection for information exchanged by ministers and civil servants. The commission is holding two hearings, Jan 20 and Jan 25, after having been deluged by comments last year when it asked for “evidence.”

See video of the first session and a transcript here on the commission website. The Commission has also published further minutes of its meetings.

Many stories were written about the session:

The Telegraph wrote: “Top civil servants could get same protection from Freedom of Information requests as Cabinet ministers.”

The Daily Mail headline was “No case for rewriting FoI Act, says information commissioner,” with another headline saying,Sir Cover-Up ‘wrong’ on FOI: Claims of a ‘chilling effect’ on government business are dismissed by former justice minister.”

The Guardian led with Christopher’s statements, beginning, “Advice given to ministers by civil servants should not be excluded from freedom of information legislation, according to the official responsible for overseeing the workings of the act.” reported, “The official responsible for overseeing the workings of the Freedom of Information Act has said there is no need to rewrite it.”

ThirdSector looked at one proposal under discussion, beginning, “The “blunderbuss approach” of extending the Freedom of Information Act to the voluntary sector could have serious ramifications for some charities, third sector leaders have warned.”

Several conservative politicians, Susan Hall and Barry MacLeod-Cullinane, recently wrote in opposition to weakening the FOIA.

Separately, Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake proposed a bill prevent ministers from overruling decisions by the Information Commissioner and Information Tribunal.

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