The Independent Commission on Freedom of Information published its report earlier this year. The Commission was tasked with reporting on how well the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is working and whether the correct balance is being struck between transparency and protecting sensitive information.
Over 30,000 responses were received by the Commission, with a range of views expressed; from widening the scope of the Act to imposing restrictions to reduce the burdens associated with complying with requests.
The opposing view surrounding the Act crystallised in the successful appeal by The Guardian. The publication was concerned with the Cabinet's ability to exercise a veto preventing the release of letters between HRH the Prince of Wales and ministers. This is thought to be one of the factors resulting in the setting up the Commission to review the effectiveness of the Act.
The overall conclusion is that the Act does not require any significant changes to be made. It was concluded that the Act is "working well" and has been successful in enhancing openness and transparency. Despite this, the Commission has made 21 recommendations with 16 of those requiring legislative amendments to be made to the Act.
The recommendations mainly arise from the Commission's view that there are aspects of the Act that are unclear. There were also uncertainties surrounding the operation of the Act.
It was considered that there have been some interpretations of the Act that appear to have departed from its original intention.
The most pertinent recommendations relate to the government's exercise of a veto, respond times, publishing of information and the application of the Act to private companies,. Key recommendations include:
Most of the recommendations require legislative amendments and cannot be implemented without the government taking positive action to adopt them.
The government's response to date has been limited. They have indicated that the time scales recommendations will be adopted in a revised code of practice. But it is not currently the intention to amend the Act to give this legislative force.
Nothing is likely to change in the immediate future. However authorities should review the new Code of Practice when it is published as this is likely to impose some additional obligations, even though these will not be a significant departure from the current regime.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at November 2016. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.