Posted by: Ciaran | May 16, 2010

As one door opens, another closes

This report from Press Gazette provides a succinct rundown of the commitments made by the new coalition Government to expand Freedom of Information laws and reform the current position on libel in favour of the media.

Any move to make FoI applicable to a greater number of organisations will undoubtedly be welcomed by the press in particular, and there will be a flurry of requests in October 2011 when the laws will be extended to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the Academy Trusts, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

Where next for FoI? As Oliver Luft’s article says, plans to make Network Rail more transparent were discussed by the last Government, and utilities companies (in some cases partially covered already by the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 when they are working on behalf of a public authority) could be in line to join them.

After that, it is anybody’s guess. But it is likely there will be resistance in some areas to greater openness – on Friday the Vale of Glamorgan Council, which is already subject to FoI legislation, was warned it faced action in the High Court if it refused to provide details of how much it had paid two consultants.

And this all comes in the week Paul Chambers was convicted under the Communications Act for posting a ‘menacing’ message on Twitter over an ill-advised but evidently sarcastic tweet about blowing up an airport.

So while the Government gets down to the business of reforming the current laws on freedom of information and expression, maybe there should also be a brief discussion about interpreting the existing pieces of legislation in a common-sense way.


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