9 Oct 2015

Government commission to consider charging for FOI requests

A Government appointed commission will consider charging the public to submit Freedom Of Information requests, as part of an inquiry into possible changes to legislation.

Houses of Parliament

Today the Independent Commission on FOI launched a consultation period asking the public for their views.

But sources close to the Commission have admitted they are looking at the possibility of introducing fees.

One told Channel 4 News: “It would be extraordinary to look at the burdens [of the FOI Act] without looking at that question [of introducing fees].

“But there is no starting presumption that there will be [fees introduced].”

The Commission was set up in July 2015 to look at “the practical operation of the FOI Act as it has developed over the last ten years.”

But critics have questioned the independence of the Commission, which is chaired by Lord Burns GCB, who is also chairman of Channel 4.

Other members of the Commission are Rt Hon Jack Straw, Lord Howard of Lympne, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Dame Patricia Hodge.

This summer a letter was sent to the Prime Minister signed by 140 media bodies, campaign groups, and others, including The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph and Trinity Mirror.

The letter said they “deplore” any changes that would weaken the FOI Act.

“An independent Commission is expected to reach its views based on the evidence presented to it rather than the pre-existing views of its members.” it continued.

“Indeed, in appointing members to such a body we would expect the government to expressly avoid those who appear to have already reached and expressed firm views.

“It has done the opposite.”

Today’s consultation period will last for six weeks, with the Commission expected to release their findings by the end of the year.

Lord Burns GVB, Chairman of the Commission, said: “Freedom of Information is an area of considerable public interest and we want to hear the views of as many people as possible, which is why we are announcing this public call for evidence.

“The Commission is an independent body, with no pre-determined view, and is interested in gathering as much objective evidence as possible on the questions posed in the call for evidence.”

Members of the public can submit evidence to the commision here.