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    Thursday, 22 March 2007

    Falconer on freedom of information and access to the family courts

    In a wide-ranging speech delivered at Gray's Inn last night (and trailed yesterday - 1,2), Lord Falconer offered a review of the government's position on access to government-held information. This came in the context of the growing campaign (1,2,3) against plans to limit the access of journalists and other researchers (in particular) to the regime introduced in January 2005 under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

    Some random pickings from what he had to say, were the following:

    - the general sense that the Government was to be congratulated for its introduction of a presumptive right of access to information. Two cheers only, I'm afraid - the government seems to think that percussive reiteration of this general point will cause people to overlook the limitations of the Act (I've traced the ups and (mostly) downs of the introduction of the FoI regime in previous writing that I'll happily make available to anyone who wants it)

    - his derision for the aphorism that freedom of information is what oppositions talk about, and then forget when they are in power. Ironically, the first time I heard this phrase (or something like it) was as a first hand quotation from Jack Straw.

    - the emphasis on the trope that the purpose of the FoI regime is to serve the public, not the Press, and the rehearsal of a series of standard stories setting out the purportedly facile nature of much of the usage of the Act by journalists. This is aimed directly at justifying the limitations proposed (1,2) on the access of journalists to the mechanism, and elides the important uses to which the Act has been put.

    - the vacillation over whether to allow untrammelled media access to the family courts - on which he promised further imminent announcements.

    The speech is certainly worth reading in full - see above. For further discussion of issues in this general area, see the UK Freedom of Information Blog.

    2 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    Interestingly, on 20 March the Information Commissioner - Richard Thomas - gave evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs regarding the government's proposals. He was sceptical about the need for the reforms, and highlighted the existing possibility for public authorities to sift out vexatious requests under section 14 of the Act.

    Evidence was also given to the Committee by representatives of the Guardian and the World Development Movement. See:

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmconst.htm

    Andrew Scott said...

    There has also been further public critique from regional newspaper journalists and editors. See, further:

    http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/day/foi/070328editors.shtml

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