The Lord Chancellor has defended Government plans to amend the Freedom of Information Act and maintained it is “reasonable” to impose stricter limits on the cost and number of requests.
Giving the keynote speech at today’s Press Gazette media law conference at Reuters, Lord Falconer said the Government’s FoI proposals were “neither a return to secret government nor an assault on the public’s right to know or the freedom of the press”.
“The public have a right to know information,” he said. “But why should it be in the interests of the press to determine when and how they get it?”
He re-asserted his belief that FoI was primarily a tool for the public, and not the press.
“The purpose of the FoI Act is to give the public access to information. It is not to provide the media with page leads,” he said.
“Yes, the media provides a hugely important service in drawing attention to issues revealed through FoI and in scrutinising the Government and the information that s disclosed. But it is not the only conduit.”
Falconer also defended the controversial proposals to include reading time when calculating whether the cost of an FoI requests exceeds the limit, and maintained that aggregating requests from the same source was “reasonable”,
“It is reasonable that there should be a method by which each request could be aggregated, where the breaking down of requests is to get around the limit,” he said.
“It is reasonable to allow reading time in determining the cost, once it’s established that it’s a perfectly normal request.”
The Lord Chancellor also said the press had been quick to attack proposals to change the Freedom of Information Act.
“It’s proving very difficult to get a consensus, because each proposal is viewed by the press as a determined attempt to undermine FoI”, Falconer said.
Falconer also spoke about reporting restrictions on family courts and coroners courts about the televising of court cases.
“Important though justice being seen to be done undoubtedly is, it is a second order issue to justice actually being done,” he said.
Falconer said providing greater access to court cases “should not come at the cost of victims and witnesses”.
“A balance needs to be struck to be sure we do not add unnecessarily to the stress of the family.”