Brown scraps curbs on FoI and media access to coroners' courts

The Government today announced that it will not be tightening the charging regime for Freedom of Information requests or access to coroners courts as it had previously proposed.

Justice secretary Jack Straw made the announcements as he unveiled a wide-ranging package of constitutional changes in the House of Commons.

The commitments were later repeated by prime minister Gordon Brown in a speech at Westminster University.

Straw told MPs that the “freedom of the media to investigate and report is a key issue in the use of information”.

He also said ministers had decided not to press ahead with restrictions on media access to coroners’ courts in the light of responses to a consultation exercise last year.

Proposals to ban media payments to criminals had also been under consideration, Straw said.

“None of us want to see criminals profiting from publishing books about their crimes.

“While ensuring that the freedom of the press to investigate and report is maintained, we will bring forward proposals to make sure criminals cannot benefit in this way.”

He said there were also concerns about the misuse of personal data and new rules in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill had raised concerns that they might “impede legitimate investigative journalism”.

Brown has asked the information commissioner Richard Thomas to lead a review on the way personal information was shared and protected in both the public and private sector.

The Information Commissioner, in consultation with the Press Complaints Commission, would produce guidance to ensure the rights to investigate were not impeded, Straw said.

Gordon Brown, speaking at Westminster Universty, spoke of the Government’s “determination to subject the State to greater scrutiny and accountability”.

The prime minster said he agreed with the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee that “a free press is the hallmark of our democracy” and that “there is no case for statutory regulation of the press.”

Director of the Society of Editors Bob Satchwell said: ‘We look forward to ministers leading the way to greater openness. Feeding the public genuine facts and information rather than trying to spin them is the way for politicians and public bodies to win respect.

“This is a victory for the public and for common sense.”

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