Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Saving freedom of information in the UK

For the past six months, a UK select committee has been reviewing that country's Freedom of Information Act as part of its "post-legislative scrutiny". The committee has come under intense pressure from politicians and civil servants to weaken the Act and widen the scope for secrecy. But now it looks like that pressure has failed:

Pressure from former senior Labour figures, including Tony Blair and Jack Straw, as well as Whitehall mandarins, to "turn back the clock" on freedom of information legislation has been decisively rejected by an all-party group of MPs.


The report on their post-legislative scrutiny of the 2000 act will also reject the idea of charging for FoI requests, arguing that any blanket charges that would start to cover the costs would be prohibitively high. The MPs do, however, back a two-hour cut to the 18-hour time limit after which a public body can impose a one-off charge to cover the cost of the extra work of dealing with a request. The charge levied after the time limit is passed is left to the discretion of the public body.

So, it looks like there will be minor tweaks, but not the sort of rollback demanded by Tony Blair. Which means that UK politicians will still be able to be held to account for their decisions.

The full report will be published on July 26. Meanwhile, I understand that the NZ law Commission's report on our Official Information Act will be released a few days before that, so it will be interesting to compare the two.