Just when you thought FOI was safe (“Oh no we didn’t! Not after that Cabinet Office packed the new FOI Commission with people who don’t particularly care about FOI”, I hear you say), The Ministry of Justice has announced a consultation into changes to fees for, amongst others, FOI appeals at tribunal stage.
If the proposal goes ahead, it will cost £100 to apply for an appeal to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) or the Upper Tribunal (if the case is transferred), and £500 for an oral hearing. Christopher Knight of 11 KBW has produced a helpful summary in this post on the Panopticon Blog.
This proposal is not a great surprise. In July 2012, the Justice Select Committee published its Report into Post-Legislative Scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Government published its official response in December 2012 and paragraph 24 mentioned the possibility of introducing tribunal fees despite the Committee never suggesting it.
Introducing tribunal fees is clearly an attempt to curtail the public’s right to know in the guise of cost saving. The Campaign for Freedom of Information are mounting a vigorous defence of FOI. We should all try and contribute. Readers can also sign the 38 Degrees Petition to protect FOI laws.
Tribunal fees will have a big impact on the number of challenges to public authority decisions. Overworked FOI Officers may initially see cause for celebration. However if fewer appeals are heard the quality of FOI caselaw on important matters of interpretation will suffer. Consequently application of the FOI exemptions, as well as other provision, will become more difficult. This alone is a good reason for a robust response to the consultation from the public sector.
What else is afoot for FOI? I looked into my crystal ball, after the election, to predict how FOI could change now we have a Conservative majority government. It will be interesting to see how many of my predictions come true when the FOI Commission reports back in November.
Don’t forget on 18th July 2015 the new Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015 (ROPSI) came into force, replacing the 2005 version. They contain some important changes to the UK public sector information re use regime.
Ibrahim Hasan will be reviewing the latest FOI developments and caselaw in detail, in our forthcoming FOI Update webinar.