The presumption of disclosure under
freedom of information (FoI) laws must trump “unnecessary secrecy” –
which only suggests public bodies have something to hide – the
Information Commissioner is to warn on Thursday.
Thomas will stress that FoI should not be regarded as a threat – even
when it reveals information that is “embarrassing” or “uncomfortable”.
he will caution that “wresting” information from government and other
public authorities risks undermining trust between state and citizen.
The public “respects honesty, not cover up”, Mr Thomas will say.
comments, at the annual FoI Live conference in central London, come
amid the outcry over a Tory MP's bid to exempt Parliament from its own
Mr Thomas is not expected to refer
directly to David Maclean's FoI (Amendment) Bill, but will emphasise
the Act “reinforces good government”. He will say it is becoming a
“fixed feature of 21st century democracy” and should not be viewed as a
Mr Thomas will
remind public bodies that they serve the public and urge them to adopt
a positive approach to openness. But emphasising that FoI must not be
used for mischievous and pointless demands, he will announce a
“charter” for responsible FoI requests and new guidance for public
bodies to resist “vexatious” applications.
nearly two-and-a-half years FoI is delivering real benefits,” Mr Thomas
will say. “There is a presumption of disclosure, unless there is a
genuine reason to withhold information. This must trump any instinct of
unnecessary secrecy which simply suggests a public authority has
something to hide.”
And he will
argue: “Openness – even where it reveals uncertainties, disagreements
or embarrassments – treats citizens as grownups and reflects the
realities of public life.”
his speech, Mr Thomas will rebut claims that FoI has an inhibiting
effect, insisting that potential disclosure encourages a record of
full, accurate and impartial advice from officials. And he will
predict: “Greater openness will deter spin and informal decision
Words of common sense that must be supported.