Information act signals move away from secrecy

The information commissioner, Richard Thomas, has said his office will be “independent, robust and responsible” in carrying out...

The information commissioner, Richard Thomas, has said his office will be “independent, robust and responsible” in carrying out its duties under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 as the final stages came into force on 1 January 2005.  
 
“The right to know signals a fundamental culture change - moving all public services away from excessive official secrecy,” Thomas said.

“Our job is to be the referee if a request for information has been refused. Our independence means that we can be robust in ensuring that information is released where the new law requires.

"This involves a presumption in favour of disclosure. In practice, this will mean deciding whether exemptions have been properly applied by public bodies and, in most cases, ensuring that the public interest in disclosure is fully considered.

"However, we must be responsible in our approach, recognising that greater openness should strengthen, not undermine, effective government,” he said.
 
The act means that a great deal more information will be put into the public domain. Unless exemptions have been properly applied, examples where information is likely to be routinely disclosed will include: 

  • research studies and the facts on which national and local decisions are based
  • details of official meetings held with outside organisations 
  • the health and safety records of organisations
  • environmental impact reports 
  • details of proposed new transport links 
  • proposals for mergers or closures of hospitals 
  • admissions policies for schools 
  • performance figures for government departments and local authorities 
  • information about hospital complaints and the performance of clinicians 
  • contracts with suppliers 
  • expenses paid to public servants.

The Information Commissioner has published guidance to help public bodies handle freedom of information requests at the commissioner’s web site, www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk.

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