Why is the Freedom of Information Act important?
For over 10 years, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has played an essential role in holding the State to account.
Unsurprisingly, it’s not particularly popular with the Government, and just three years after it was the subject of an extremely thorough cross-party Parliamentary Justice Select Committee report – which concluded that the FOIA had been a “success” and “enhanced the UK’s democratic system” – the Act is under examination again. The Commission on Freedom of Information has been set up and recently called for evidence as part of this investigation.
We're pleased to say HUNDREDS of Liberty members and supporters responded to our appeal to submit the original 2012 report to the Commission (the consultation is now closed). The Government cannot simply ask and ask again until they have the answer they want to hear.
Tell me more about the Freedom of Information Act
The Freedom of Information Act has revealed many uncomfortable truths but inconvenience doesn’t justify curbing this essential tool.
The FOIA was instrumental to Liberty’s success in challenging discriminatory stop and search practices and the degrading treatment of detained immigrants.
Requests for information under the FOIA have been vital in improving the way public bodies are run and helping ordinary people to hold public institutions to account.
Yet the Government seems intent on diluting this power, launching a Commission on Freedom of Information to scrutinise the balance between transparency and the need for a “safe space”; and consider the “burden of the Act on authorities”. These questions were already answered by a cross-party parliamentary Justice Select Committee report in 2012.
The report concluded (following thorough evidence-gathering and investigation) that the FOIA had been a “success” and “enhanced the UK’s democratic system”.
Perhaps the Government has forgotten
Because as well as this worrying loss of short-term memory, the new Commission is dangerously stacked.
Chaired by Lord Burns, the Commission includes Jack Straw who is already on record saying the Act should be rewritten, is currently subject to criminal investigation for his alleged involvement in the kidnap and rendition of a Gaddafi dissident and had to suspend himself from the Labour party earlier this year following a “cash for access” sting. The Commission also includes former Conservative leader Lord Howard (who was at the sharp end of FOI requests during the expenses scandal) and Lord Carlile (whose views on the paramount importance of secrecy are well-known).
This attempt to crack down on the FOIA is deeply concerning.
We have very few pieces of legislation that let us hold our public bodies to account. The Freedom of Information Act is one. The Human Rights Act is the other. The Government is intent on restricting both, and we cannot allow them to get away with it.