Madrid, 23 November 2015 – Access Info Europe has warned that any move by the UK government to amend the FOI law by expanding blanket exceptions to decision-making transparency or by extending a political veto over disclosure, would be an attack on international standards.
These concerns were set out in a submission to the government-appointed FOI Commission, which has been criticised for being stacked with transparency sceptics.
The Commission’s consultation document opened the possibility of extending the use of Cabinet vetoes to block disclosure of information, even after a judicial decision to do so. Access Info Europe called for the veto to be abolished, noting that such political interference is never acceptable in a rule of law state.
The pro-transparency organisation also challenged the assertion that internal deliberations of UK public bodies needed special protection or an absolute exception from disclosure to the public; international standards clearly state that exceptions may only apply in the presence of a demonstrable harm, unless there is an overriding public interest in the information’s release.
“It is absurd that at home the UK government seems keen to limit decision-making transparency while espousing the benefits of co-creation of policies in fora such as the Open Government Partnership,” stated Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe.
Access Info also highlighted concerns about the proposal to limit public access to the risk assessments that are made at the early stages of policy formation on the spurious grounds that transparency would reduce honesty in assessing risks.
“The government has an obligation to properly evaluate the risks of any policy. In a modern, participatory democracy, it is essential that the public is fully informed of these risks in order for there to be informed public debate,” added Helen Darbishire.
Another key observation in Access Info’s submission is that it is out of line with international standard to charge for FOI requests to reduce the burden on public authorities. Indeed, the British government’s own data demonstrates that the cost of the FOI Act to central government is less than 2% of the cost of its external communications activities – that is one fiftieth of what is spent on government “spin”.
Read the submission by Access Info Europe:
Read the submission by UK civil society, endorsed by Access Info: http://www.opengovernment.org.uk/resource/ogn-briefing-evidence-to-the-foi-commission/
For more information, please contact:
Helen Darbishire | Access Info Europe
Send an e-mail or call +34 913 656 558
Pictures’ source: http://www.gov.uk (under an Open Government License v3.0)