MP's Committee tells Justice to leave FOI alone

Parliament's Constituitonal Affairs
Committee has categorically rejected the government's case for new
arrangements in handling Freedom of Information requests

In a report into the government's proposed changes to the charging system for FoI requests, published on 25 June 2007, the committee
said the government had failed to review adequately whether the
existing arrangements balance public access rights with the needs of
public authorities.

The government had used the findings of a
review commissioned by the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA)
to argue for changes to be made to the FoI charging regime. This had
found that “a small percentage of requests and requesters were placing
disproportionately large resource burdens on public authorities”.

It proposed that in addition to the time
spent locating, retrieving and extracting information, public
authorities would also be able to take into account the time spent
reading the information, consulting other bodies and considering
whether or not to release it. Ultimately, the proposals would push more
requests over the cost threshold at which authorities can legitimately
refuse such cases.

Lambasting the DCA for the poor quality of
information presented in its cost-benefit analysis, the committee says:
“The focus of the DCA's work has been entirely on cost reduction,
despite the absence of any evidence that such measures were necessary.
There is no evidence that the DCA took steps to assess the benefits of
the present regime.”

Declaring in no uncertain terms that “there
is no objective evidence that any change is necessary”, the report
says: “The Ministry of Justice should now focus on improving compliance
with the existing provisions of the FoI Act and on reducing the delays
encountered by requesters seeking information.”

A spokesperson for the Information Commissioner's Office told GC News:
“The commissioner had strong reservations about the practicalities of
the proposals and believes that the problem of vexatious requests,
which impose excessive burdens on public authorities, can and should be
addressed through the existing provisions in the FoI Act.”

David Maclean MP's private member's bill to
exempt Parliament from the act is currently awaiting debate in the
House of Lords. Commenting on the report in relation to the bill,
LibDem shadow justice secretary Simon Hughes said: “This report makes
clear that David Maclean's attempt to change the rules and exclude
Parliament from FoI requests was quite wrong, badly thought through and
completely unjustified.”

An MoJ
spokesperson said the government was currently reviewing its proposals
following the close of its second consultation and would respond in due
course. (source)

Whilst we know this an alien concept, called servicing the needs of the public, but we would ask the MoJ to give it up now and concentrate on the committee's recommendation: to focus on improving compliance
with the existing provisions of the FoI Act and on reducing the delays
encountered by requesters seeking information.

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About IanPJ

Ian Parker-Joseph, former Leader of the Libertarian Party UK, who currently heads PDPS Internet Hosting and the Personal Deed Poll Services company, has been an IT industry professional for over 20 years, providing Business Consulting, Programme and Project Management, specialising in the recovery of Projects that have failed in a process driven world. Ian’s experience is not limited to the UK, and he has successfully delivered projects in the Middle East, Africa, US, Russia, Poland, France and Germany. Working within different cultures, Ian has occupied high profile roles within multi-nationals such as Nortel and Cable & Wireless. These experiences have given Ian an excellent insight into world events, and the way that they can shape our own national future. His extensive overseas experiences have made him all too aware of how the UK interacts with its near neighbours, its place in the Commonwealth, and how our nation fits into the wider world. He is determined to rebuild many of the friendships and commercial relationships with other nations that have been sadly neglected over the years, and would like to see greater energy and food security in these countries, for the benefit of all. Ian is a vocal advocate of small government, individual freedom, low taxation and a minimum of regulation. Ian believes deeply and passionately in freedom and independence in all areas of life, and is now bringing his professional experiences to bear in the world of politics.
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