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Freedom of Information Bill [H.L.]




An Act to extend the right of access to information held by public authorities; and for connected purposes.

BE IT ENACTED by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:-

Purposes.     1. - (1) The purposes of this Act are-
    (a) to extend progressively the right of the public to have access to official information held by public authorities in order to promote-
      (i) better informed discussion of public affairs;
      (ii) greater accountability of public authorities; and
      (iii) more effective public participation in the making and administration of laws and policies;
    (b) to ensure that person are given reasons for decisions taken by public authorities which affect them; and
    (c) to ensure that guidelines used by public authorities in making decisions affecting persons are publicly available.
      (2) This Act shall be interpreted so as to-
    (a) further the purposes specified in subsection (1) above; and
    (b) facilitate and encourage the disclosure of official information, promptly and at the lowest reasonable cost.
Right of access.     2. - (1) It shall be the right of any person to obtain access, subject to the provisions of this Act, to official information held by a public authority.
      (2) The right of access under subsection (1) shall apply notwithstanding any statutory or common law prohibition on the disclosure of information other than one contained in an order of the Court.
      (3) A public authority to which an application for official information has been made under this Act shall-
    (a) give the applicant access to the information applied for as soon as practicable and in any case within the specified period, which is 20 working days from the date on which the application was made, except insofar as an application relates to information obtained by the authority from a third party in which case the specified period is 35 working days from that date; and where, in either case, the information applied for has not been provided within the specified period the application shall be deemed to have been refused;
    (b) not be required to give access to any information which is exempt within the meaning of section 3(1); but an authority shall not refuse to give access to any record where this can be done by providing a copy of the record from which any exempt information has been excluded;
    (c) in any case where it withholds exempt information, notify the applicant that it has done so specifying under which of the paragraphs in section 3(2) and for what reasons the information is considered to be exempt and the procedure by which an appeal against its decision may be made;
    (d) at the request of the applicant, correct any information held by it relating to the applicant which is incorrect, incomplete, misleading, or not relevant to the purpose for which the information is held.
      (4) Any information which is required to be made available under this section shall be made available to any person on application-
    (a) by supplying a copy of it to the applicant in the form in which it is held unless the applicant requests that it be made available in another form and it is practicable to do so; and
    (b) if the applicant so requests and it is practicable to do so, for inspection by the applicant.
      (5) An authority shall not be required to give access to information where to do so would interfere substantially and unreasonably with its work by requiring it to identify and retrieve a substantial volume of records, provided that before refusing to provide information on these grounds the authority has taken reasonable steps to assist the applicant to reformulate the application so as to avoid causing such interference.
Exempt information.     3. - (1) Official information is exempt if its disclosure would be likely to cause substantial harm to any of the interests specified in subsection (2).
      (2) The interests referred to in subsection (1) are-
    (a) the defence or international relations of the United Kingdom and its dependencies or the lawful activities of the security or intelligence services;
    (b) the prevention, investigation or detection of crime, the apprehension or prosecution of offenders or the prevention of escape of persons from legal custody;
    (c) the fairness of legal proceedings;
    (d) the position of the public authority to which the application for disclosure of information has been made in any actual or contemplated legal proceedings insofar as any harm to that position results from the disclosure of information to which legal professional privilege applies;
    (e) the competitive position of the public authority to which the application for disclosure of information has been made or a third party, insofar as any harm to that position arises from the use of information which is confidential to the authority or third party by a competitor of that authority or party;
    (f) the privacy of an individual to whom the information relates and who has not consented to the disclosure; and for the purposes of this paragraph a disclosure shall be regarded as causing substantial harm to an individual's privacy if it consists of-
      (i) information relating to the individual's personal affairs which the individual was required by law to supply to the public authority to which the application for disclosure of information has been made, or which he supplied to it in confidence in connection with a statutory benefit provided by the authority; or
      (ii) information obtained in connection with the provision of health care or social work services to the individual;
    (g) the protection of the life or safety of an individual, the public or rare or endangered species or their habitats;
    (h) the ability of the public authority to which the application for disclosure of information has been made to obtain from a third party information which is necessary to its work, insofar as any harm to that interest results from the disclosure of information which has been supplied to the authority in confidence by a third party who-
      (i) was not, and could not have been, required (whether by statute, contract or otherwise) to supply it, and
      (ii) did not supply it for the purposes of influencing the contents of legislation or the policy or practice of an authority or of securing some material benefit for itself;
    (i) the ability of the public authority to which the application for disclosure of information has been made to give adequate consideration to a matter concerning which no final decision has been taken and which remains the subject of active consideration, insofar as that ability would be harmed by disclosing the advice, opinion or recommendation tendered by an identifiable individual in the course of that individual's official duties for the purpose of the formulation of the policy of the authority.
      (3) Information does not fall within paragraph (h) of subsection (2) insofar as it consist of-
    (a) factual information;
    (b) the analysis, interpretation or evaluation of, or any projection based on, factual information;
    (c) expert advice on a scientific, technical, medical, financial, statistical, legal or other matter, other than advice falling within subsection (2)(c) above;
    (d) guidance such as is described in section 6(2)(c); or
    (e) information relating to the personal affairs of the applicant or the reasons for any decision taken in relation to the applicant.
Public interest.     4. - (1) A public authority to which an application for official information has been made under this Act shall give access to the information, notwithstanding that it is exempt, where to do so is justified in the public interest having regard both to any benefit and to any harm that may arise from going so.
      (2) In determining whether a disclosure is justified in the public interest a public authority shall have regard to-
    (a) the purposes of this Act set out in section 1(1) above, and
    (b) the question of whether the information indicates the existence of any-
      (i) offence, failure to comply with a legal obligation or miscarriage of justice;
      (ii) abuse of authority or neglect in the performance of official duty; or
      (iii) danger to the health or safety of an individual, the public or the environment.
      (3) In any proceedings for an offence under the Official Secrets Act 1989, it shall be a defence to show that the information whose disclosure gave rise to those proceedings would have been available to an applicant under this Act having regard, in particular, to the provisions of this section.
Charges.     5. - (1) A public authority shall make no charge to the applicant for the provision of information under this Act other than-
    (a) an application charge, which shall not exceed £10;
    (b) an hourly charge, not exceeding £15 per hour, in respect of the time required to identify and locate the requested information by a person doing so in an efficient manner, provided that no such fee may be charged in respect of the first three hours so spent;
    (c) a charge of 5 pence per copy in respect of any photocopies supplied to the applicant;
    (d) in respect of copies of records supplied other than on paper, a reasonable charge to cover the cost of any blank tape, disk, film or other material onto which the record has been copied;
    (e) in respect of information sought by a person for commercial purposes, such additional charge as the Secretary of State may, by regulations under section 9, prescribe.
      (2) The charges referred to in subsection (1) above shall be waived-
    (a) where disclosure of the information is in the public interest; or
    (b) where the cost of collecting and accounting for the charge exceeds the amount of the charge.
Duty to assist applicants, etc.     6. - (1) A public authority shall take reasonable steps to assist any person seeking to exercise any right under this Act.
      (2) A public authority shall make available-
    (a) a guide sufficient to enable any person wishing to apply to it for information under this Act to identify the classes of records held by it, the subjects to which they relate, the location of any indexes to those records, and, so far as is practicable, facilities to enable those indexes to be consulted by any person;
    (b) an indexed register containing copies of information released in response to requests under this Act other than information relating to the personal affairs of the applicant;
    (c) any guidance used by the authority in relation to its dealings with the public or with corporate bodies;
    (d) to any person, the reason for any decision taken by it in relation to that person.
      (3) The materials referred to in paragraphs (a) to (c) of subsection (2) above shall be made available-
    (a) for inspection by any person without charge;
    (b) by supplying a copy to any person on request, for which a charge not exceeding 5 pence per page so copied may be made;
    (c) on the internet, provided that the materials are held by the authority in electronic form and it is practicable for it to so make them available.
      (4) Nothing in this section shall require an authority to disclose information which is exempt within the meaning of section 3(1).
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Prepared 11 December 1998