Report of Government FoI commission delayed after consultation prompts mountain of responses

The Government commission reviewing the Freedom of Information Act has pushed back publication of its reports after receiving a mountain of responses.

The report was due by 17 December after a 20 November deadline on consultation responses.

But after receiving more than 30,000 submissions the report is now expected some point after 25 January.

According to the NUJ, some 28,835 submissions were as a result of an online tool it created with campaign group 38 Degrees.

Press Gazette’s submission alone ran to more than 400-pages and included reasons given for protecting the Freedom of Information Act given by many for 42,000 to sign this title’s petition.

The Independent Commission on Freedom of Information today announced that it would hold two days of oral evidence sessions on 20 and 25 January and then publish its report “as soon as possible after these sessions”.

Chairman of the Commission Lord Burns said: “The Commission was set up in July this year to review the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000. It is considering the balance between transparency, accountability and the need for sensitive information to be protected.

"I'm pleased to have received approximately 30,000 submissions of evidence from individuals, campaign groups, journalists and civil society organisations from all over the country.

"Given the large volume of evidence that we have received, it will take time to read and consider all of the submissions.

"Furthermore, the Commission has also decided to invite some parties to provide oral evidence.”

The Commission's consultation paper suggests that it is considering proposing sweeping restrictions to Freedom of Information – but is not considering strengthening the public's right to know about the activities of the Government departments and public bodies for which they pay through their taxes.

Reforms the Commission appears to be considering include imposing charges for making FoI requests, and making it easier to refuse requests on cost grounds.

It is also thought to be considering making it more difficult to obtain public authorities' internal discussions – or exempting some completely from any form of disclosure.

The Government has also made it clear that it wants to strengthen ministers' powers to veto disclosures.

FoI campaigners have expressed serious doubts about the Commission's approach and composition.

Its members include former foreign secretary Jack Straw, who in October was quoted in the Commons by Leader of the House Chris Grayling as having said that the Act was the thing he most regretted.

In 2009 Straw, who was then the Labour government's justice secretary, became the first minister to use the veto power in the act to block the release of information.

He overruled the Information Commissioner's orders to publish minutes of Cabinet discussions in the run-up to the war with Iraq on the grounds that publication would "risk serious damage to Cabinet government".

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