Public sector organisations have a statutory duty to disclose information in response to freedom of information (FoI) requests from members of the public or other organisations. H Mc Partland & Sons Solicitors explores the Freedom of Information Act.
What is the Freedom of Information Act 2000?
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides public access to information held by public authorities.
This is done in two ways:
- Under obligation, public authorities are compelled to publish certain information about their activities; and
- members of the public are authorised to ask for information from public authorities.
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 covers any recorded information that is held by a public authority in Northern Ireland, England and Wales, and by UK-wide public authorities based in Scotland (information held by Scottish public authorities is covered by Scotland’s own Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. Public authorities include government departments, local authorities, the NHS, state schools and police forces.
Recorded information includes any printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs, and video or sound recordings. However, the Act does not give people access to their own personal data. For example, their health records or credit reference file.
Anyone can request information – there are no restrictions on your age, nationality or where you live.
Why is there a need for The Freedom of Information Act?
The government first published proposals for freedom of information in 1997 aiming to create a more open government based on mutual trust.
Because public authorities spend money collected from taxpayers and make decisions that can significantly affect many people’s lives, allowing the public access to information helps them make public authorities accountable for their actions and allows the public to be better informed and more productive.
Allowing to give access to official information can also improve public confidence and trust if government and public sector bodies are seen as being open.
What is the basis behind the Freedom of Information Act?
The main basis behind freedom of information act is that the public have a right to know about the activities of public authorities, unless there is a good reason for them not to. This is sometimes described as a presumption or assumption in favour of disclosure.
This means that:
- everybody has a right to access official information. Information should be kept private only when there is a good reason and it is permitted by the Act
- an applicant does not need to give you a reason for wanting the information.in fact, you must justify refusing them information
- you must treat all requests for information equally. The information someone can get under the Act should not be affected by who they are.
- because all requests should be treated equally, information, under the Act, should only be disclosed if you would disclose it to anyone else who asked. (consider the information being released to the world at large.)
H Mc Partland & Sons provide advice to public sector organisations who receive such FoI requests and also those making the requests.
Our expert solicitors understand the need to respond to an FoI request promptly and as fully as possible to comply with FoI time limits and will provide clear and prompt advice to allow legal deadlines to be met. We’ll also use our knowledge and experience to tell you quickly and clearly what has to be disclosed and which exemptions apply to restrict disclosure.
Our experienced team regularly advise clients either making or responding to FoI requests, and as a result, understand the situation from every perspective. Contact one of our expert and experienced team at our offices in Lurgan or Lisburn to discuss any queries.