Freedom of Information changes scrapped – Reprieve comment

March 1, 2016

The government has stepped back from proposals to amend the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, after the commission set up to examine FOI found that it is “working well.”

In its report, published today, the cross-party Commission on Freedom of Information found that there is “no evidence” in favour of changing the Act substantially. In some areas, the commission said, “the right of access should be increased.” In a written statement published today, the government said that it agreed with several of the commission’s key recommendations, and that it would “carefully consider” others.

The commission was set up last year, with the government saying at the time that it would examine whether FOI should be scaled back in order to protect “policy development.”

Human rights organization Reprieve – which has previously used FOI to uncover information relating to UK involvement in covert drone strikes, and the CIA’s torture programme – had expressed concern that any watering down of the Act would restrict the public’s ability to hold the government accountable for human rights abuses.

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said:

“Freedom of Information plays a vital role in uncovering government wrongdoing – from waste and incompetence to complicity in human rights abuses. The government’s plans to dilute FOI should never have been introduced, so the Commission’s findings today are welcome. Let’s hope this will make ministers think twice before attempting to undermine the British public’s right to know.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064.

2. The commission’s report, and the government’s written statement on it, are available here.

3. Further detail on Reprieve FOIs on drone strikes and CIA torture are available here.