Don't shackle Freedom Act with steep charges

An impressive total of 148 MPs have now signed the early day motion urging the Government to honour its commitment to impose only minimal charges for information requested after the Freedom of Information Act comes into force next January. They are clearly not satisfied by the Government’s assurances, made since The Guardian ran a story in May suggesting that charges might be as much as six to 10 times higher than promised.

The level of charges is bound to influence the amount of use journalists make of the Act. These hypothetical concerns are backed up by the real example of Ireland. A report by the country’s information commissioner, Emily O’Reilly, shows that requests by journalists under the Act have fallen by 83 per cent and she has called for a review of the charges.

O’Reilly, a former journalist, has suggested that the Irish Government should consider waiving charges where the release of information is in the public interest.

The Government here is expected to come up with its proposals on charges in the autumn. It would do well to consider the experience in Ireland and make sure the Freedom of Information Act does not start its life shackled by prohibitive charges.

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