Act Now Launches New FOI Practitioner Certificate


Act Now is pleased to announce the launch of its brand new FOI Practitioner Certificate.

This course is one of the first of its kind, in a way that only Act Now delivers – practical, on the ground skills to help you fulfil your role as an FOI Officer.

This new certificate course is ideal for those wishing to acquire detailed knowledge of FOI and related information access legislation (including EIR) in a practical context. It has been designed by leading FOI experts including Ibrahim Hasan and Susan Wolf – formerly a senior lecturer on the University of Northumbria’s LLM in Information
Rights Law.

The course uses the same format as our very successful GDPR Practitioner Certificate. It takes place over four days (one day per week) and involves lectures, discussion and practical drafting exercises. This format has been extremely well received by over 1000  delegates who have completed the course. Time will also be spent at the end of each day discussing what issues delegates may face when implementing/advising on the FOI topics of the day.

The four teaching days are followed by an online assessment and a practical project to be completed within 30 days.

Why is this course different?

  • An emphasis on practical application of FOI rather than rote learning
  • Lots of real life case studies and exercises
  • An emphasis on drafting Refusal Notices
  • An online Resource Lab with links, guidance and over 5 hours of videos
  • Modern assessment methods rather than a closed book exam

 Who should attend?

This course is suitable for anyone working within the public sector who needs to learn about FOI and related legislation in a practical context, as well as those with the requisite knowledge wishing to have it recognised through a formal qualification. It is most suitable for:

  • FOI Officers
  • Data Protection Officers
  • Compliance Officers
  • Auditors
  • Legal Advisers

Susan, says:

“FOI and EIR are almost 14 years old. Since the Act and Regulations came into force there have been many legal developments and court decisions that have given practitioners a much greater understanding of the legal provisions and how they should be applied in practice. With this in mind, we have written this course to ensure that it equips public sector officers with all the necessary knowledge and skills they need to respond to freedom of information requests accurately and efficiently. This course, with its emphasis on the law in practice, will enable trainees to become more accomplished and confident FOI practitioners”

Susan will share her vast experience gained through years of helping organisations comply with their information rights legislation obligations. This, together with a comprehensive set of course materials and guidance notes, will mean that delegates will not only be in a position to pass the course assessment but to learn valuable skills which they will be able to apply in their workplaces for years to come.

This new course builds on Act Now’s reputation for delivering practical training at an affordable price:

This new course widens the choice of qualifications for IG practitioners and advisers. Ibrahim Hasan (Director of Act Now Training) commented:

“We are pleased be able to launch this new qualification. Because of its emphasis on practical skills, we are confident that it will become the qualification of choice for current and future FOI Officers and advisers.”

To learn more please visit our website.

All our courses can be delivered at your premises at a substantially reduced cost.
Contact us for more information.

Veni, Veto, Vici : Court of Appeal FOI Veto Case and its Implications

What effect will the Court of Appeal’s recent decision on the FOI – and EIR – ministerial veto have on another recent case – the vetoing of the decision to require disclosure of the High Speed Rail assessment review?

On 6 June 2013 the Information Commissioner (IC) served a Decision Notice under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR). Section 50(4) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) gives the IC the power to do so (those powers being extended to the EIR by Regulation 18). The Decision Notice required the Cabinet Office to disclose a Project Assessment Review (“PAR”) report concerning the high-speed rail link, High Speed Two (HS2).  On 30 January 2014 Patrick McCloughin, Secretary of State for Transport, signed a certificate pursuant to section 53 of FOI and Regulation 18(6) of the EIR. The effect of this certificate was that the Cabinet Office was no longer required to comply with the IC’s Decision Notice:

“the decision taken by the Cabinet Office not to disclose the PAR report in response to the relevant request was fully in accordance with the provisions of the EIR, or the Act, as appropriate”

Of course, this exercise of ministerial veto – described as a “constitutional aberration” by the Lord Chief Justice (Evans, R (on the application of) v HM Attorney General & Anor [2013] EWHC 1960 (Admin)), is not unprecedented; the power has now been wielded seven times (twice by the Labour government and five times by the coalition). The minister, notably, was minded to disagree with the IC that the request had fallen to be determined under the EIR, rather than FOIA:

“there is considerable force in the Cabinet Office’s position that the information within the PAR report was insufficiently proximate to the environmental impact of the HS2 project itself to amount to “environmental information” for the purposes of the EIR”

However, he went on to say that:

“it is not necessary for me to determine whether the PAR report is environmental information, because I take the view that the Cabinet Office was entitled to withhold it from disclosure, whether or not it consisted of environmental information”

This is perhaps surprising, because at the time he issued that veto certificate there was an argument, being aired in the Court of Appeal, that the power to exercise the veto does not exist under the European law to which the EIR give domestic effect.

Now, the Court of Appeal has handed down judgment (Evans, R (on the application of) v HM Attorney General & Anor [2014] EWCA Civ 254). The case is being recognised, correctly, as primarily about the specific lawfulness of the vetoing of the disclosure of private correspondence on policy matters between the Prince of Wales and government departments. However, as in the Divisional Court beforehand, one point which fell to be determined was about the general status of the veto power in relation to environmental information. On this point the Court of Appeal held that

“the certificate is incompatible with EU law in so far as the information to which it relates is environmental information”

The court’s reasoning was that, although, the EIR, by Regulation 18, provide for a ministerial veto no such power exists in the Directive 2003/4/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2003 on public access to environmental information (“the Directive”) which is implemented in domestic legislation by the EIR. Moreover, Article 6(2) of the Directive says, crucially

Member States shall ensure that an applicant has access to a review procedure before a court of law or another independent and impartial body established by law, in which the acts or omissions of the public authority concerned can be reviewed and whose decisions may become final

And this requirement to have a “final” review before a court or independent and impartial body could not be satisfied by the availability of judicial review of a ministerial veto. Article 6(2) and (3) should be given their natural and ordinary meaning: the right is to have the acts or omissions of the public authority reviewed, but in judicial review proceedings the question becomes whether the accountable person had reasonable grounds for forming the opinion that the public authority had in fact complied with its EIR obligations and, “that difference is not a mere matter of form”. Moreover, and for broadly similar reasons, the veto power offended Article 47 of The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which provides:

“Everyone whose rights and freedoms guaranteed by the law of the Union are violated has the right to an effective remedy before a tribunal in compliance with the conditions laid down in this Article”

So what does this mean for the veto on the HS2 “PAR” request? It certainly appears at the moment that following the Court of Appeal’s ratio in Evans, and to the extent that the HS2 request was for environmental information, that the veto may be unlawful, if (as has been suggested, it is challenged). However, there are two caveats to that. Firstly, the Attorney General has been given permission to appeal Evans to the Supreme Court: it seems highly likely that the general EIR point will be appealed, as well as the overarching specific point about the public law validity of the veto (if the former is not appealed, then it would mean in effect that the government accepts that the EIR fail properly to implement the Directive). Secondly, we must look back to the suggestion by the Minister when issuing the certificate in the HS2 veto that he tended to disagree with the IC that the information in question was environmental. Much, despite what he implied about the lack of need to determine this point, may now turn on this: if the information was environmental then Evans, providing the EIR point is not overturned by the Supreme Court, may well lead to the veto being struck down. If, however, the information was not environmental, and FOIA applied, then any appeal of it will presumably be on domestic public law grounds.

At this point it is probably otiose to start speculating on what will happen with requests which are classed as hybrid ones – namely, those which seek information which is a mix of environmental and non-environmental (as, indeed, those in both Evans and the HS2 case arguably are). All these matters are by no means yet resolved.

Jon Baines, who is Chairman of the National Association of Data Protection Officers (NADPO) and works in local government.

Ibrahim Hasan will be discussing this and other recent FOI decisions in the FOI Update workshops and online webinars.

Exit mobile version