OGN Publications 20th November 2015

OGN Briefing: Evidence to the FOI Commission

This evidence, endorsed by over 100 civil society organisations, was submitted by the UK Open Government Network to the FOI Commission in response to its call for evidence. It argues that:

  • It is not in the interests of the public or good government for policy deliberations to have absolute exemption from FOI. Decisions on whether information on the development of policy should be disclosed should continue to be made according to a public interest test.
  • The ministerial veto should not be extended to allow the executive to overrule decisions by the courts. Ministers should be prepared to make well reasoned and evidenced cases for non-disclosure, which stand up to scrutiny in court. If the executive is unable to do this, it is right that the information in question be disclosed.
  • A blanket exemption for risk assessments is unlikely to increase candour in such documents. The public acknowledgement of the existence of certain risks will enhance the public debate about major projects and their implementation. It is when risks can be silently ignored that the consequences are dramatic.
  • The benefits of the FOI Act justify its cost to public authorities. The costs of FOI are minor in comparison to other comparable government expenditure (e.g. government communications), and there are numerous case studies that demonstrate that FOI has been pivotal in exposing information it was in the public’s interest to know.
  • Charges for making FOI requests would be a significant threat to the openness and transparency of the UK, acting as a deterrent to legitimate FOI requests and preventing  investigations across multiple organisations.