Reporting and publicity – Freedom of information
1. The Freedom of Information Act 20001 (“FOIA”) imposes a general duty on public authorities2 to disclose information on request, but qualifies this duty with a wide range of exemptions3. As with the Data Protection Act 1998, the FOIA covers information kept in both manual and electronic form4.
2. Where a person makes a ‘request for information’5 to a public authority, the authority’s general duty is to6:
- inform the applicant, in writing, whether it holds the information requested (referred to as the ‘duty to confirm or deny’); and
- if it holds the information, communicate this to the applicant.
3. The request must generally be complied with promptly and in any event within 20 working days following receipt7. Where a public authority requires further information from the applicant to locate and identify the request, and it has informed the applicant of this, the authority is not obliged to comply with the request until the applicant has supplied the further information8. However, the authority has a duty to advise and assist the applicant regarding their request9.
4. The duty to provide information under the FOIA is also subject to a number of exemptions for a range of governmental (including law enforcement and regulatory) activities10.
5. Some exemptions are ‘absolute’ while others involve the application of a ‘public interest’ test to determine whether the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information11.
6. If you receive a request for information, you should, in the first instance, consult your divisional FOI officer.
- c.36. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 - which gives effect to Government proposals as set out in a White Paper ‘Your Right to Know’ (Cm 3818 (December 1997)).
- HSE is a ‘public authority’ under the Act, s. 3(1) and schedule 1 and s.84.
- Butterworths New Law Guides “The Freedom of Information Act 2000”, Ch. 2, Butterworths, 2001. For detailed guidance on FOIA see this publication and also the Ministry of Justice site.
- FOIA 2000 Section 84.
- FOIA 2000 Section 8, the request must be in writing (including electronically, such as e-mail), state the name of the applicant and an address for correspondence and describe the information requested.
- FOIA 2000 Section 1(1).
- FOIA 2000 Section 10(1). It is also important to note that the duty is to provide the requested information, not a specific document or documents. However, the authority should, where practicable, give effect to the applicant’s stated preferred means of communication – FOIA 2000 section 11.
- FOIA 2000 Section 1(3).
- FOIA 2000 Section 16.
- Part II of Act, sections 21-44. The principal exemptions relating to HSE include: where the information is held for the purposes of a criminal investigation and/or criminal proceedings (section 30(1)); or, where section 30(1) does not apply, if its disclosure would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime, the prosecution of offenders, or the administration of justice (section 31), or prejudice HSE’s function to secure the health, safety and welfare of persons at work or persons affected by the actions of persons at work (section 31(1)(g) and (2) (i) and (j)); where the information is personal information (section 40, in which case the request must be considered under the DPA 1998); and where the information has been provided in confidence (section 41).
- See FOIA 2000, section 2.