Information Commissioner Says FOI ‘A Priority’

Information Commissioner John Edwards has said the Freedom of Information Act is “a priority” for the regulator and that FOI is of “fundamental importance to the functioning of democracy.”

Launching the ICO’s new strategy, Mr Edwards stressed the importance of FOI. “There are few regulators who can say their work is of fundamental importance to the functioning of democracy. But that is the value of the Freedom of Information Act. My role is to ensure the administration of that law is fit for the modern world,” he said.

His comments were welcomed by the News Media Association and the Campaign for Freedom of Information which also welcomed commitments by the ICO to delivering “more systemic enforcement action against public authorities that clearly and consistently fail to meet their FOI obligations.”  

 The ICO has said it will publish quarterly updates on its FOI casework as well as looking at how it can speed up its complaints handling and reduce the current backlog to pre-pandemic levels by March 2023, earlier than it previously hoped.

The CFOI said further improvements will be needed but these commitments are a “promising start.”

Separately this week, peers showed support for an amendment to the Procurement Bill which would ensure that information held by public sector contractors in connection with a contract is automatically subject to the FOI Act.

Drafted with the help of the CFOI, the amendment was tabled by Lord Berkeley and supported by Lord Clement-Jones.

“There are many other examples from around the world where transparency is thought necessary and desirable,” Lord Berkeley said. “I believe the UK FoI provisions should be extended to allow access to such information via a request to the public authority responsible for the contract.”

The Bill continues in Committee stage.