UK’s freedom of information laws being undermined, journalists warn

Ahram Online , Wednesday 13 Apr 2022

More than 110 MPs, journalists and campaigners frustrated by escalating government secrecy have signed an open letter warning that the UK’s freedom of information (FoI) laws are being undermined by a lack of resources and government departments obstructing lawful requests.

FoI laws grant members of the public the legal right to request official information from public bodies. AP

The letter calls for better enforcement of transparency rules.

The letter, which was coordinated by the online news organisation openDemocracy, says the current approach to enforcing the FoI Act is “clearly not working.”

The signatories addressed their letter to the new information commissioner, John Edwards, who is responsible for enforcing the FoI law, which grants members of the public the legal right to request official information from public bodies.

Edwards’ organisation, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), reviews complaints against public bodies that have refused FoI requests and can order them to release material if they have failed to comply with the law.

The letter urges Edwards to defend the public’s right to know, including allocating more resources to investigate complaints about secrecy in Whitehall.

The open letter calls for the ICO to assign more resources to FoI casework, monitoring of public bodies that fail to comply with the law, and stronger enforcement protocols for government bodies that repeatedly flout the law. It also recommends the extension of the FoI to cover private companies that provide public services.

In response to the letter, Information Commissioner John Edwards said: “We acknowledge the concerns expressed in this letter. FoI plays an important part in civic engagement and holding public services to account, and we share the desire to see the law work effectively.”

He continued: “We all benefit from a modern law, and I think there are suggestions in this letter that warrant further consideration.”

Last year a judge accused the Cabinet Office of having “misled” a tribunal about the operation of an alleged blacklisting system for FoI requests from journalists, called Clearing House, and described a “profound lack of transparency” surrounding the unit, according to The Guardian newspaper.

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