Tag Archives: FOI

Newspaper Society: Justice select committee calls for evidence on FOI Act

The Newspaper Society issued a reminder this morning that the justice select committee has made a call for evidence on “the operation” of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 – as part of its “post-legislative scrutiny” of the law.

The call for evidence was issued in December, but written evidence can still be submitted until Friday, 3 February.

The committee has asked for feedback on three areas in particular (copied below), but adds that those who submit responses are also “welcome to address additional issues”:

  • Does the Freedom of Information Act work effectively?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Freedom of Information Act?
  • Is the Freedom of Information Act operating in the way that it was intended to?

There is more information here on the select committee’s website.

The Lawyer: Harrow Council considers making all FOI data public

Harrow Council is considering plans to proactively publish all information that would be released under an FOI request, reports the Lawyer.

Harrow has seen a 160 per cent increase in the number of FOI requests over the past two years, and Peart believes the move would almost eliminate the cost burden of dealing with FOI requests.

It is estimated that local authorities ­collectively spend £34m handling requests each year.

Full report on the Lawyer at this link.

BBC News: Hundreds more organisations could be covered by FOI law

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg will tomorrow announce that hundreds more organisations could be made subject to Freedom of Information laws, the BBC reports today.

According to the broadcaster, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the university admissions service UCAS are two bodies to be included.

Mr Clegg will pledge to “restore British freedoms” in his speech on Friday, as part of “our wider project to resettle the relationship between people and government”.

He will say: “Free citizens must be able to hold big institutions and powerful individuals to account – and not only the government. There are a whole range of organisations who benefit from public money and whose activities have a profound impact on the public good.

The Ministry of Justice had previously confirmed to Journalism.co.uk that it was looking at Freedom of Information Act 2000 “to see where we can further increase the openness and transparency of public affairs whilst ensuring that sensitive information is adequately protected”.

At the time the department said the next steps would be announced “in due course”.

Is FOI the tool of the lazy journalist?

We ask the question in response to a blog post from the other side of the equation on the site We Love Local Government, which has published its plans for a ‘Lazy Journalist Index’, rating those journalists who, from a local government communications’ perspective, are “drains on the public purse”.

Full post at this link…

But as one commenter points out:

It’s not about local (or central) government deciding what’s best for us to know, but taxpayers – and that includes journalists – being able to decide and ask for themselves.

Six pre-request FOI questions for journalists

David Higgerson, head of multimedia for Trinity Mirror Regionals, regularly blogs about Freedom of Information requests, from best practice advice to what he’s learned thanks to FOI requests each week.

In his latest post he warns that there is a danger that journalists may “default to FOI” too often, which can have an impact on the quality of the results they get. In order to get the best responses he suggests posing a series of questions to yourself before requesting the information. In summary they are:

  1. Is this information available elsewhere?
  2. Will they release the information to me without going through FOI?
  3. Is there another way of getting this information?
  4. Do I need to think about jargon in my FOI request?
  5. Are there examples of the information being released elsewhere?
  6. What reasons for refusal could a public body come up with?

Read his post in full for detailed advice…

Happy Birthday to the Freedom of Information Act

Both the Guardian and Herald carry pieces today marking five years since the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act became law.

The Herald reflects on the impact of the Scottish Act, while the Guardian recalls some memorable stories uncovered through use of the legislation.

But, as the Guardian suggests, there are still problems for journalists using the act:

[J]ournalists have also criticised the act as a bureaucratic waste of time and money, with requesters complaining that important information is all too often redacted or withheld by authorities who are keenly aware of the news value of the material they hold (…) Some believe Whitehall and government ministers are getting bolder in manipulating the delays in order to scupper an already weakened FOI law. “It will take a huge scandal to get up steam for a reformed ‘strong’ law,” warns one reporter. “In the meantime, ministers are busy weakening it even further.”

On the other hand, are journalists bringing the act into disrepute through the stories they choose to use it for?

Full Guardian story at this link…

Herald piece: ‘The FoI rulings that left a mark on public life’

The Scottish Information Commissioner’s office has also produced this video, courtesy of Vimeo, on how the legislation has changed Scotland:

BJP: Derbyshire – the best place to live as a photographer?

Olivier Laurent’s extensive report into the use of the terrorism act against photographers suggests that many British police forces have been permitted use of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to stop and search individuals, including photographers – with Derbyshire’s force, so far, being the only exception.

The British Journal of Photography (BJP) filed 46 Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to chief constables in Britain to determine whether they had requested permission to use the section of the Act in their regions.

A number of forces declined the information requests, according to BJP.

“[C]ounties including Cumbria, Essex, Hertfordshire, Merseyside, and Surrey all declined to answer, claiming that although there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations, release of any details regarding the use of S44 could threaten the health and safety of the public and the police force itself,” reports Laurent.

Full report at this link…

There’s also a breakdown of how the police forces responded to the FoI requests by county.

Follow this link for more coverage of photography and the UK’s Terrorism Act.

Guardian.co.uk: FoI requests cost BBC £3m

Some interesting stats obtained by the Guardian’s own Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the corporation:

  • Complying with requests made under the FOI act, since its introduction in 2005, have cost the BBC £3 million;
  • FOI requests have risen from 971 in the first year of the act to 1,141 for up to the end of July this year.

Full story at this link…