UK Govt buried plans to weaken FOI on day Trump elected
November 15, 2016
[UPDATE, 15 Nov, 14:45: this press release has been corrected to clarify that the Government’s comments were in response to recommendations made by the Justice Select Committee]
The British Government published its response plans to weaken the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on the same day as the result in the US Presidential election was announced, it has emerged.
The statement was published on Wednesday 9 November as part of an 18-page document entitled ‘Government Response to the Justice Committee’s Second Report of session 2016/17.’
In it, the Government announces that “a number of recommendations” of a widely-criticised review of FOI undertaken by a panel including former Home Secretaries Jack Straw and Michael Howard “are being carefully considered.”
The recommendation referred to is that “legislation should be introduced to remove the right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal.” This would significantly weaken the ability of those making FOI requests to overturn decisions made by the Government not to disclose information, where those decisions have been supported by the Information Commissioner.
According to the Campaign for Freedom of Information, 20% of such appeals were successful in 2014. By removing the right of appeal to the Tribunal, the Government will effectively narrow the basis on which Government decisions can be challenged.
In recent years, FOI requests by human rights charity Reprieve have led to revelations that the UK sought redactions to the US Senate’s report on CIA torture; and that British police have trained their counterparts in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere despite concerns that such training could contribute to torture and executions.
Commenting, Donald Campbell, Director of Communications at Reprieve said: “It is alarming that ministers have resurrected these discredited proposals to water down Freedom of Information. The Government’s decision to bury this news in an obscure report published on the day Trump was elected is yet another attack on transparency. Ministers must abandon this shameful proposal to restrict the British public’s right to know what is done in their name.”
Notes to editors
1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064.
2. According to the Gov.uk website, the report containing the comments on FOI was “First published [on] 9 November 2016.” Page 4 of the report states that “We see no reason to disagree with the view of the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information that legislation should be introduced to remove the right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal against an Information Commissioner decision. It can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-response-to-the-justice-committees-second-report-of-session-201617
3. The Independent Commission whose recommendation the Government plans to admit was chaired by Lord Burns, the former top civil servant at the Treasury, and had been criticised as a ‘stitch-up’: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3221788/Is-review-Freedom-Information-law-stitch-ministers.html