Headlines: February 16th, 2004

With just ten months to go to the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act some of the implications are starting to emerge. Details of contracts ranging from weapon systems supplied to the Ministry of Defence to bandages for the health service can be disclosed from January 2005. A survey of seventeen central government departments by the Information Commissioner found that work on revising contracts to remove confidentiality clauses is progressing slowly.Whilst the Freedom of Information Act does provide for disclosure of commercial information to be restricted in certain circumstances all contract revisions are aimed at making this the exception, rather than the rule. The issue is complicated by the law of contract, intellectual property rights and the Common Law of Confidence. In a number of areas working groups of contract review teams and private sector suppliers have been set up to work out solutions. In other cases issues are being resolved in workshops.

The survey also found that preparations for the introduction of the Act, such as setting up new procedures are well in hand, but that the cultural impact was being recognized to different degrees. Some responses showed that calls for disclosure were expected from investigative journalists when they believed a department was being secretive. Other responses showed that the aim is manage the release of information rather than to protect it. One department has told staff that they should assume that everything they draft may be disclosed.

Link: http://www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk/cms/DocumentUploads/FOI%20survey%20Central%20Government.pdf