UK Campaign Rejects Proposed FOIA Amendment

23 June 2016

A Justice Committee recommendation would “seriously undermine FOI Act,” according to the Campaign for FOI.

The coalition objected particularly to a proposal to abolish the main right to appeal against the Information Commissioner’s decisions.

The Justice Committee report endorses a recommendation made this March by the Commission on Freedom of Information chaired by Lord Burns. The Commission recommended that the right to appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) against decisions of the Information Commissioner should be abolished. A right to appeal to the Upper Tribunal on a point of law would remain.

The Campaign for FOI said the Commission’s own figures showed that 21% of FTT appeals by FOI requesters in 2014 were wholly or partly successful, leading to disclosure of wrongly withheld information. Depriving requesters of this right would weaken the public’s right to know, it says.

The Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said:

In the last year or so the tribunal has ordered the Cabinet Office to disclose how members of the Chilcot inquiry into the invasion of Iraq were appointed. It has ordered the Department for Education to reveal payments to new sponsors taking over failing academy schools. It has told the Ministry of Defence it was wrong to withhold information about the failure to warn soldiers that they would get a criminal record if being convicted of minor disciplinary offences. It required the Ministry of Justice to identify landlords convicted of offences for letting dangerous or grossly substandard accommodation and has ordered authorities to release information about the contracting-out of public services – or decisions to keep them in-house. The right to challenge the Information Commissioner’s decisions is important and losing it would be a major blow.

The government has not so far announced any decision on this issue, the Campaign said, though the Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock has said the government was not intending to make any “legal changes” as a result of the Commission’s report.

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