Falconer: FOI is for the public, not the press

Freedom of Information is mainly for the public and not the press, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, is due to say this evening.

"People not the press must be the priority. There is a right to know, not a right to tell," he is set to say.

In delivering the Lord Williams of Mostyn memorial lecture, Lord
Falconer will insist the Government is fully committed to openness.

He will argue that the Government believes Whitehall was insufficiently open before it came to power in 1997.

The public's right to know is central to openness and not the media's role in providing information, he is expected to say.

The Freedom of Information  Act came fully into force on 1 January 2005. It gives people the right of access to information held by over 100,000 public authorities across the UK.

Greater transparency in the family courts, court broadcasting, data sharing as well as the FOI legislation itself are all ways in which the Department for Constitutional Affairs is trying to open up the legal system, the audience will hear.

Other areas undergoing consultation in a bid to provide the public with more and better information include the operation of coroner's courts, data sharing and protection and the fees regime that underlies the FOI Act.

And for each of these examples the Government is encouraging changes predicated on openness but openness for a purpose and the greater benefit of the public, Lord Falconer will say.

The test is openness in the public interest and that it is appropriate for third parties, not politicians or the press, to decide on the right limits on the purposes of openness when cases are tested, the audience will be told.

Last year the Department for Constitutional Affairs published a £75,000 independent review of the Freedom of Information Act's impact since its introduction.

It found requests were costing central Government £24.4 million a year while other public authorities – such as town halls – faced a total annual bill of £11.1 million.

In response the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, published proposed changes to the laws.

They included a plan to include within the current £600 cost limit the time taken by officials to consider each request.

But many campaigners reacted angrily to the proposals, saying that they would make it much easier for authorities to refuse requests on cost grounds. 

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