FOIA extensions

When the Phillis Report concluded that the ministerial veto should be struck from the new FOIA, the government refused to amend the Act preferring to wait until the Act was in force and then see how it ‘bedded down.’

Yet when it came to weakening the Act there were no such qualms.

On 4 November, 2004, The Freedom of Information (Time for Compliance with Request) Regulations 2004 (draft) was announced to parliament. It would extend the deadline for answering a request for information in certain limited circumstances.

Schools would be exempt from the time limit if the request falls within school holidays. If information is held abroad or by someone involved in a military operation the deadline can be extended to 60 days. And the National Archives would get an extension up to 30 working days for requests involving transferred public records not designated as open information, where it needs to determine whether the information is exempt.

In fact there already exists within the FOIA, flexibility for extensions if an authority can prove it needs extra time to consider whether an exemption applies, where the public interest lies or to contact third parties. The changes proposed take away the need to prove why time is needed and gives it automatically. Indeed, why not wait until the act has ‘bedded down’ to see if these time-periods are problematic before opening up yet another loophole in an already enfeebled law?

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