Sunday, 11 July 2010

Freedom of Information

Making a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act seems a simple enough procedure.  But public bodies can refuse information on several grounds, which include

Section 21 - information accessible to the applicant by other means

Section 22 - information intended for future publication

Section 30 - investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities

Section 31 - law enforcement

Section 32 - court records

Section 33 - audit functions

Section 38 - health and safety

Section 39 - environmental information

Section 40 - personal information

Section 41 - information provided in confidence

Section 42 - legal professional privilege

Section 43 - commercial interests

Section 44 -prohibitions on disclosure

However daunting that list may appear, the fact is that all pubic bodies have to supply information when asked unless they can specifically identify reasons under the above sections why they can't, when they also have to tell you why.

There are, however, no compulsions that they have to help you find out exactly what it is you don't know, so the whole process becomes something of a detective game.

To stay ahead of any potential obfuscation strategies,  FOI requests should follow some simple rules:

  1. Keep it as precise as you can. Use a precise time frame and identify what it is you want to know as precisely as you can.
  2. Use financial years instead of calendar years when dealing with the councils.
  3. Include your full name and address.

As an example, the Maesdu Bridge is the current 'hot-potato', and we all want to know exactly why there was what appears to have been such catastrophic mismanagement of the project. In this case you need to identify which committee dealt with the original proposals, who was the project manager and why it all went belly-up. 

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