Fees in the GRC: Apocalyse Postponed

One of the more popular posts Panopticon has been responsible for was alerting people to an MoJ consultation proposal to introduce fees for all cases in the General Regulatory Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal. That includes appeals against DPA information, enforcement and monetary penalty notices, and appeals against Information Commissioner decision notices under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

A mass campaign was orchestrated by the Campaign for Freedom of Information which generated over 40,000 responses opposing fees for FOIA appeals.

The Ministry of Justice has now responded to that consultation exercise. The discussion of the responses to the GRC proposals can be found at paragraphs 55-62, from which it is clear that the vast bulk of responses concerned the impact on FOIA appeals. The Government’s conclusions are found at paragraphs 93-95. They do not engage with any of the arguments in any detail, but conclude that a decision on fees for an appeal against a decision of the Information Commissioner will be postponed pending the conclusions of the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information. Presumably this is intended to mean all decisions, including under the DPA and the EIR (even though they fall outside the scope of the Independent Commission’s work). Other jurisdictions of the GRC will, however, have the fees applied to them. The Government suggest that they had always proposed to charge a fee for a case referred under rule 19 to the Upper Tribunal (although that wasn’t clear to us at all) but do not deal with how fees will work where a hearing is ordered against the wishes of the parties.

Given that fees will now apply in the GRC generally, one suspects that the writing may be on the wall in relation to information appeals. The Independent Commission as saviour may be a triumph of hope over experience. We shall see.

Christopher Knight