The Government want to change the Freedom of Information Act. Here is what I said to the consultation.
TO: Independent Commission on Freedom of Information 9th Floor 102 Petty France London, SW1H 9AJ
Freedom of Information and the Ombudsman system
I am not knowledgeable enough to comment sensibly on many of the issues raised in the consultation document, so I will confine myself to one area where I do have some experience. I would say, however, that the act seems generally to work well to me, and has produced many instances of hugely important information which would have otherwise been hidden. The MP’s expenses scandal is one such case.
I suggest that the FoI Act as it currently affects the various ombudsman services, should not be relaxed. Many of these organisations have little if any outside scrutiny and essentially police themselves. The FoIA allows interested members of the public to discover what is going on and probe into how these organisations work and reach their decisions. It should be remembered that in general there is no real independent appeal process against ombudsmen’s decisions, so errors and not picked up and the bodies press on under the impression that they are infallible. The ombudsmen know they can make their decisions knowing they will not be criticised.
The FoIA provides a way to probe and find out what is going on. As an example the Legal Ombudsman has no procedures for investigating bias or unfairness by ombudsmen*** so alleged bias or unfairness can only be investigated by judicial review and is thus beyond the reach of almost everyone. Without the FoIA this would not have been known.
Please do not change the Act to make it more difficult for the public to discover such things and hold public bodies and Government to account.