Justice Committee Report on FOIA

The House of Commons Justice Committee’s Report on its post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is published today and is available online.

We will be analysing the Report more fully in the coming days, but in general it is clear that the Report has not opted to recommend any radical change to the FOIA regime.  The Committee suggests that there should be a modest reduction (in the region of 2 hours) to the time that public authorities are required to spend in answering requests.  They do not suggest any expansion in the range of activities that are taken into account in applying the costs limit.

There is no recommendation for any additional exemption to preserve the “safe space” for policy formation and Cabinet discussion.  But there is a clear signal from the Committee that the exemptions in FOIA section 35 are intended to give some protection to high-level policy discussions, and that the use of the ministerial veto may sometimes be required.

About a quarter of the written responses to the Committee’s call for evidence were from the university sector. The Committee recommends a Scottish-style exemption for unpublished research information, but rejects the suggestion that universities should be taken out of FOIA altogether.

The Committee recommends that the effect of public sector outsourcing on the operation of FOIA should be kept under review.