What can journalists expect from Jack Straw? The new Justice Secretary is the same man who helped water down the Freedom of Information Act after David Clark lost the battle to make it more rigorous..
The new bill fell far short of expectations and its introduction was delayed for five years. During that time Straw yielded to Parliamentary pressure and improved it marginally.
Now he will have to decide whether to press ahead with Lord Falconer’s proposal to allow public bodies to take account of the time taken to consult, read and decide in responding to FoI requests. Information can be denied if the cost exceeds £600 for Whitehall departments and £450 for other bodies.
Speaking at an NCTJ conference at the Law Society recently, The Times legal manager Alastair Brett said the media should now “fight tooth and nail” against Government proposals to introduce a new fees regime for the FoI Act.
He also called on Straw to put an end to knee-jerk legislation to stop lawyers insuring against libel costs, to bring clarity in defamation cases, to lift the threat of jail sentences over journalists carrying out legitimate investigations and to improve relations with the media.
“So what I think I would ask Jack Straw to do now he is taking over in the new [Justice] Ministry is to consider some of the things which we are faced with at the moment,” Brett said.
Straw will no doubt be influenced by Gordon Brown who will not want his premiership to get off to a bad start by falling out with the media. Especially as Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, and the select committee that monitors his department, have come out against any change.
At Westminster, Straw gets on well with journalists. As Foreign Secretary he once quipped that he spent more time talking to Bill Jacobs, the then lobby correspondent for the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, than he did talking to his wife or Permanent Secretary.