Setting off alarm bells: The new Commission on Freedom of Information

When the Government announced there would be a new Commission on Freedom of Information, it set off some alarm bells. In the last month things have got worse.

It is clear that it is only going to consider the case for restricting our rights to access information. The Commission’s members are mainly ex - ministers, such as former Home Secretaries Jack Straw and Michael Howard, or officials and crucially there are no FOI campaigners included.

The government is also proposing to introduce fees for appealing against the Information Commissioner's FOI decisions to the Tribunal. An appeal solely based on written submissions would cost £100; an appeal with an oral hearing would cost £600. Appeals are currently free of charge.

We already know that the introduction of fees for appeals to the employment tribunal has cut the number of unfair dismissal claims by 70 percent. Introducing fees for FOI appeals is likely to have a similarly drastic impact on individuals wanting to know more . However, it is unlikely that  public authorities wanting to challenge decisions in favour of publishing information would be deterred by the proposed fees.

The Open Government Network, of which Unlock Democracy is a member, has written to the government raising concerns about both the Commission and the consultation on tribunal fees. The Network includes a diverse range of organisations but we all believe that strong, effective Freedom of Information laws and fundamental to a healthy, accountable democracy.

The full text of the letter can be found here: