Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Freedom of Information Act 2000
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (2000 c. 36) is the implementation of freedom of information legislation in the United Kingdom on a national level. It is an Act of Parliament that introduces a public "right to know" in relation to public bodies. The act implements a manifesto commitment of the Labour Party in the 1997 general election. The final version of the act is believed to have been diluted from that proposed while Labour was in opposition. The full provisions of the act came into force on 1 January 2005. The act itself is Crown copyright but can be found at the Web site of the Stationery Office.
The act is the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor's Department (now renamed the Department for Constitutional Affairs). The act led to the renaming of the Data Protection Commissioner (set up to administer the Data Protection Act), who is now known as the Information Commissioner). The Office of the Information Commissioner will oversee the operation of the act when it comes into force.
A second Freedom of Information law is in existence in the UK; the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (2002 asp 13) was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2002, to cover public bodies over which the Holyrood parliament, rather than Westminister, has jurisdiction. For these institutions, it fulfills the same purpose as the 2000 Act.
Implementing the act
This Act affects over 100,000 public bodies including Government Departments, Schools and Councils.
Recent media reports suggest that the Government have sought to delete documents prior to the act coming into force on January 1st, 2005. The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, has said that some public bodies are less prepared for this Act than others.
Rights under the act
The act creates a general right of access, on request, to information held by public authorities (Schedule 1 of the act sets out a long list of the authorities covered by the act). However, there are numerous exemptions. Some of these are absolute; some are qualified, which means the public authority has to decide whether the public interest in disclosing the relevant information outweighs the public interest in maintaining the exemption. An applicant for information who considers that a request has been wrongly rejected may apply to the Information Commissioner, who has the power to order disclosure. However, such orders can be appealed to a specialist tribunal (the Information Tribunal ) and in some circumstances the Government has the power to override orders of the Information Commissioner.
Three features of the UK Freedom of Information Act deserve special mention, as they differ from the position in many other countries.
- Requests by individuals for access to their own personal information will fall outside the act, and will continue to be dealt with under the Data Protection Act 1998.
- Requests for information about matters concerning the environment are dealt with by the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. Those regulations, while similar to the FOIA do differ in a number of ways.
- There is no procedure whereby third parties can challenge a decision by a public authority to disclose information: for instance, if a commercial organisation provides information to a public authority, and the authority discloses that information in response to a FOI Act request, the commercial organisation has no right of appeal against that decision. By contrast, "reverse FOI" applications of this type are common in the U.S.
- The Law of Freedom of Information (MacDonald, Jones et al.: OUP 2003)
- Information Rights (Coppel at al.: Sweet and Maxwell 2004)
- Stationery Office text of the Freedom of Information 2000 Act
- Information Commissioner's explanation
- Official website from the Department for Constitutional Affairs
- Open Government: a Journal on Freedom of Information. An open access e-journal, containing peer reviewed research and commentary on FOI worldwide and in the UK.
- Freedom of Information Act Blog (maintained by Steve Wood, Lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University)
- Your right to know (BBC, 16 December, 2004)
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