Freedom of Information
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 was passed with the intention to encourage public authorities to shed more light on what they are doing with public money and discourage unnecessary secrecy.
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the act), which was passed in 2000, places 2 main responsibilities on public authorities such as Swansea Council:
- the authority must produce a publication scheme
- the authority must provide a general right of access to all types of recorded information which it holds
(subject to certain exempt categories of information)
General Right of Access
From 1 January 2005, anyone can request 'recorded information' from the authority (subject to exemptions). Recorded information may be in any format eg paper, floppy disk, video and includes both electronic and paper versions of records such as email messages, reports, minutes of meetings and floor plans.
There are 23 categories of exempt information contained within the act, comprising absolute exemptions and qualified exemptions. Examples of absolute exemptions include information which is accessible to the applicant by other means, certain personal information, information provided in confidence and records where disclosure is prohibited by law. If an absolute exemption can be applied then the information need not be disclosed.
Most exemptions will be qualified and are therefore subject to the public interest test ie does the public interest in withholding exempt information outweigh the public interest in releasing it. Examples of qualified exemptions include information intended for future publication such as draft reports, law enforcement matters and commercially sensitive material. The information must be disclosed if it is in the public interest to do so.
The Freedom of Information Act does not list any person(s) appointed under the Representation of the People Act 1983. Therefore, the Electoral Registration Officer, Returning Officer or any other person appointed under the Representation of the People Act 1983 are not subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
The act is completely retrospective so that all recorded information held by Swansea Council falls within the scope of the act.
It is a criminal offence both corporate and personal for anyone to alter, deface, block, erase, destroy or conceal any record held by the authority with the intention of preventing its disclosure once it has been requested by an applicant.
On receipt of a written request for recorded information the applicant must be notified whether the authority holds that information and if so must be supplied with that information, if possible, in the manner requested.
The authority must respond promptly to a request and within 20 working days.
The Information Commissioner deals with breaches of the act. He is an independent public official and reports directly to Parliament. The Information Commissioner has powers to issue decision notices, information notices and enforcement notices in order to obtain compliance by the public authority.
The applicant must first have exhausted the authority's internal complaints procedure.