FoI for public, not press, says Falconer

Freedom of information (FoI) is for public use and not the press, the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer is expected to say at The Lord Williams of Mostyn memorial lecture this evening (Wednesday, 21 March).

At the event, hosted by chambers Farrar’s Building, Falconer is likely to say that the Government is fully committed to openness but it is “people not the press that must be the priority. There is a right to know, not a right to tell”.

The news comes as the information commissioner, Richard Thomas, a former partner at Clifford Chance, called for the Government to drop plan to curb people’s ability to ask for data under FoI.

Thomas told the constitutional affairs committee yesterday (20 March) that the proposed curbs “will introduce new layers of procedural and bureaucratic complexity”.

Under the proposed plans the Government intends to limit individual requests and make it easier for authorities to reject difficult and time-consuming requests on the grounds of cost.

Thomas said the present system was working well and warned that his office could have up to 2,000 cases a year from people challenging refusals. To date, there have been more than 120,000 requests a year for information.

Tonight, however, Lord Falconer is expected to tell the audience at Gray’s Inn that the test is openness in the public interest and that it is appropriate for third parties, not politicians or the press, to decide on the right limits on the purposes of openness when cases are tested.

The FoI Act came into force on 1 January 2005, giving people the right of access to information held by more than 100,000 public authorities across the UK.

Under current rules, central government need not disclose information under the act if the cost of providing it exceeds £600. The limit for local councils, NHS trusts and other public bodies is £450.