NMA Joins Calls to Save FOI Appeal Rights

The News Media Association is joining the Campaign for Freedom of Information and the Society of Editors in urging the Government not to resurrect proposals to weaken the rights to appeal decisions to block the release of information under the Freedom of Information Act.

The proposal, originally made in March this year by the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information, involves abolishing the right to appeal to the First Tier Tribunal decisions by the Information Commissioner that a public authority is not obliged to release information.

Following a successful campaign by freedom of information campaigners and newspapers up and down the country, the Government announced that it would not legislate to weaken FOI in the wake of the publication of the Independent Commission’s findings, which also included measures to strengthen the Ministerial veto. 

However, the proposal to weaken appeal rights was subsequently endorsed in June by the Justice Select Committee in a report on courts and tribunal fees. In this report, whose remit did not include the role of the FTT, the Committee said it saw “no reason to disagree with the Independent Commission’s view.”

Last week, the Ministry of Justice responded to the Select Committee’s report, noting that although the issue had not been in the Committee’s terms of reference, “this is one of a number of recommendations made by the Independent Commission that are being carefully considered.”

The CFOI said that abolishing the right to appeal against the Information Commissioner would “seriously weaken the public’s right to know” and would involve legislative changes to the Act that the Government had said it was not planning to make.

The CFOI has pointed out that in 2014 some 20 per cent of appeals to the tribunal of freedom of information requesters to appeal decisions not to grant requests.