More than 100 journalists, politicians and activists have signed an open letter warning that UK freedom of information (FoI) laws are undermined by a lack of resources and that government departments are obstructing legal requests.
Signatories include Guardian editor Katharine Viner, Observer editor Paul Webster, as well as shadow solicitor general Andy Slaughter, former Brexit secretary David Davis and former party leader Carolina green. Lucas.
The letter, which was coordinated by online news organization openDemocracy, is addressed to new Information Commissioner John Edwards, who is responsible for enforcing the FoI Act, which grants members of the public the right legal to request official information from public bodies.
Edwards’ organization, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), reviews complaints against public bodies that have refused freedom of information requests and can order them to release material if they do not. not comply with the law.
However, there are growing concerns among journalists and researchers that the UK’s FoI system is growing frustrated with under-resources and willful non-compliance by government departments.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information recently reported that the backlog at the ICO had grown so large that it took an entire year for case officers to be assigned to investigate complaints.
A judge last year accused the Cabinet Office of ‘misleading’ a court into the operation of an alleged blacklisting system for journalists’ freedom of information requests, called Clearing House, and described a “profound lack of transparency” surrounding the unit.
The open letter calls on the ICO to allocate more resources to FoI records, oversight of government agencies that fail to comply with the law, and stricter enforcement protocols for government agencies that repeatedly flout the law . It also recommends extending FoI to cover private companies that provide public services.
“While the UK public is still kept in the dark about Partygate, the importance of transparency has rarely been more apparent,” said openDemocracy editor Peter Geoghegan.
“FoI is a key tool for holding public bodies to account, but currently the Office of the Information Commissioner does not ensure that the Freedom of Information Act delivers on its promises. We welcome the listening exercise of the new Information Commissioner and wish to share our views on how freedom of information can be better controlled. »
Viner said, “Public interest journalism often depends on freedom of information laws, which help the public understand decisions made by authorities. Such laws are essential to the proper functioning of a democracy.
“When the government fails to meet its commitments to transparency, it is essential that the ICO is able to intervene to ensure that ministers and public bodies comply with the law.”