A setback, but progress

People reporter David Brown isn’t the first to have found himself
disappointed by the Freedom of Information Act. He was one of the first
to try his luck when it came into force in January, using it to
question the Home Office on the number of Nazi war criminals still
living in Britain.

Eventually, two months later – and some 40
days beyond the maximum response time – he was told the information was
too difficult to collate. His request was refused.

So you can
imagine his frustration last month, when a minister from the very same
department answered the same question in Parliament.

Now, at
least, Brown has some satisfaction. The Information Commissioner has
ruled that the department was in breach of the Act and forced it to
tighten up its FoI compliance.

Not much use to him now, of
course. But perhaps he can take some small comfort from the reports
elsewhere in this issue of regional newspapers shedding light on local
council stories that would have remained in the dark but for the Act.

And
from the fact that the public nature of his complaint should serve to
strengthen its enforcement in the future. Let’s hope it’s a case of one
step back, two steps forward.

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