Headlines: May 15th, 2008

Public authorities are getting new guidance on handling requests under the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations. A new booklet, ‘Hints for Practitioners Handling FOI and EIR Requests’, has been produced jointly by the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Defence and the Information Commissioner’s Office.

It offers advice on best practice in responding to requests and will also help to ensure consistency across the public sector in dealing with requests. Graham Smith, the Deputy Commissioner at the ICO, said the FOI and the Environmental Information Regulations had brought real benefits for members of the public and for public bodies. Research by the ICO showed that more than 80 per cent of people felt being able to access information from public authorities promoted accountability and transparency. Almost nine out of ten people believed the new laws had increased their knowledge of public authorities.

“Access to official information is now a key part of the UK’s democratic life and is changing public sector culture. This guidance will help FOI practitioners handle information requests as efficiently as possible for the benefit of the public,” Mr. Smith said.

Justice Minister Michael Wills and Lord Rooker, the Minister for Sustainable Food and Farming and Animal Health at Defra supported the publication of the guidance. Sir Ian Andrews, Second Permanent Under Secretary at the MOD, said, “It’s important for us and other government departments to share our best practices in order to help practitioners deal with requests in the most effective way.”

The booklet can be downloaded from the ICO’s website.