Wednesday, 10 November 2010

'Law for Journalists' - Chapter 28 Raw Notes

The Public Authority Act 2000

In total, around 100,000 major and minor bodies in the public sector are covered by the act, including:
  • National government departments and ministries
  • The House of Commons, the House of Lords
  • The armed forces
  • Local government authorities
  • National park authorities
  • Universities, colleges and schools
The UK's security and intelligence agencies – MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – are exempt from the Act, and so are not required to respond to FOI requests

Courts and tribunals are also not covered by the Act, though some information gathered or created in their functions will be available if an FOI request is made to the relevant government department which holds it, e.g. the Ministry of Justice

How does the act work?

If a 'public authority' receives a request for information, it must normally make a response within 20 working days, either supplying the information or explaining why it cannot be supplied. It may be that:
  • The public authority does not hold the information, in which case the Act's effect is that in most circumstances this must be made clear
  • or the request would exceed the cost limits for the provision of free information
  • or that the information is covered by exemptions under the Act, and therefore need not be supplied
Advice and Assistance

Public authorities are required by section 16 of the Act to give someone proposing to make a request, or somebody who has already made one, 'advice and assistance, so far as it would be reasonable to expect the authority to do so'
  • The public authority should tell you, before you make the request what information of the type you may be available
  • The public authority should give you guidance to avoid your request breaching the cost limit for such information to be provided without charge
Absolute exemptions

Some exemptions are 'absolute, I.e. the Act the public authority does not have any reason for not disclosing the information, beyond stating that the exemption applies because of the nature of the information. These absolute exemptions include the following categories of information

Sector 21 – Information reasonably accessible by other means
Section 23 – Information supplied to the public authority by or relating to bodies dealing with security matters
Section 32 – Court records
Section 40 – Personal information

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