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ICO Charter and Awareness Guidances 7 6 25

Readers should satisfy themselves of the accuracy of the following extracts from the ICO Charter and guidance documents by reference to the original texts, available online at www.ico.gov.uk

(1) Extracts from: The ICO charter for responsible freedom of information requests (Access from: “Freedom of Information” - www.ico.gov.uk)...... Aim and audience for this charter. This charter is aimed at individuals and organisations who propose to make requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) and the 2004 Environmental Information Regulations (the Regulations). It is not a legal document and is meant to be used as a guide to help users make effective use of the Act and the Regulations. The legislation. The Freedom of Information Act and the parallel Environmental Information Regulations give rights of access to official information, known as the ‘right to know’. The Act and the Regulations both make clear that, subject to certain safeguards, there is a public interest in allowing access to such information. However, while placing a general duty on public authorities to give access to official information the Freedom of Information Act also provides an exception to that duty for requests which are vexatious or repeated (section 14) and those which will exceed the cost limit for compliance (section 12). In the case of the Environmental Information Regulations, the equivalent provision is for requests which are manifestly unreasonable.

Responsible use. Requesters should consider the following factors when making requests. Does the request impose a significant burden on the public authority in terms of expense or distraction? Could the request be narrowed or refocused to avoid this burden? Can the public authority help you refocus your request? Is the request the latest in a series of requests that have already been made? Will another request serve any further purpose? If the request is about a changing situation, would it be better to allow a reasonable period of time to pass before making a further request? ...... How to make effective freedom of information requests (excerpt)...... Describe the information you require. Effective freedom of information requests will be specific. Think carefully about what information you are seeking. Ask for the information you need, rather than a general question you want a public authority to answer. Remember that the Act and Regulations provide rights of access to information held by public authorities. Precision and clarity in your description should lead to a prompt response and will help to keep your request below the cost limit for compliance. Listing dates, names of people, other bodies and links to other related sources will help the public authority to comply with your request.

(2) Awareness Guidances numbers 7, 6 and 25....... Freedom of Information Act Awareness Guidance No 7. Information Intended for Future Publication. A) WHAT DOES THE ACT SAY? The Act provides an exemption from the right to know if the information requested by an applicant is intended for future publication. To be covered by the exemption, the information must be held with the intention of publication at the time the request was made. It will not be permissible to argue an intention to publish the information when that decision was only made after the request was made. It is not, however, necessary to have set a publication date. Publication will often be publication in accordance with the publication scheme of the public authority. The exemption is not, however a blanket one. A public authority may only rely upon it “if it is reasonable in all the circumstances to do so”. The exemption is also subject to the public interest test (see Awareness Guidance No 3).

Freedom of Information Act Awareness Guidance No. 6. Information Reasonably Accessible to the Applicant by Other Means. A) WHAT DOES THE ACT SAY? The right to know is set out in Section 1 of the Act. In fact, an applicant for information has two related rights. These are: • the right to be informed whether or not the information requested is held by the authority, and, if so, • the right to have that information communicated to him. The Act goes on to make clear that these rights are subject to exemptions and, in section 21, that a public authority does not need to provide information under section 1 of the Act if that information is reasonably accessible to the applicant by other means. It is important to note that s.21, unlike many of the other exemptions in the Act, is not subject to the public interest test: if, as a matter of fact the information requested is accessible to the applicant by other means, then it is exempt.

Freedom of Information Act Awareness guidance 25. Section 36: Effective conduct of public affairs. A) WHAT DOES THE ACT SAY? Section 36 of the Act sets out an exemption from the right to know if the disclosure of information, in the reasonable opinion of a qualified person, would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs through: • Prejudice or likely prejudice to the maintenance of the convention of collective responsibility of Ministers of the Crown, the work of the Executive Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly or the work of the executive committee of the National Assembly for Wales; • Inhibition or likely inhibition of the free and frank provision of advice or exchange of views; • Any other prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs. For information (other than ‘statistical information’) to be exempt under section 36, it must in the ‘reasonable opinion of a qualified person’ be capable of either prejudicing or inhibiting the matters listed above. a) Who is the ‘qualified person’? The Act defines the qualified person for a number of specific public authorities listed in sections 36(5)(a) to (n). These include all public authorities in Northern Ireland and Wales and a small number of specific authorities in England. The qualified person in relation to the public authorities not listed is either a Minister of the Crown, the public authority itself if authorised by the minister, or an individual officer or employee of the authority if similarly authorised. D) S36 (2) (b) (i) AND (ii) LIKELY TO INHIBIT THE FREE AND FRANK PROVISION OF ADVICE OR THE FREE AND FRANK EXCHANGE OF VIEWS FOR THE PURPOSES OF DELIBERATION. Section 36 (2) (b) (i) and (ii) allow for the exemption of information if its disclosure would, or would be likely to inhibit the ability of public authority staff and others, when deliberating or providing advice, to express themselves openly, honestly and completely, or to explore extreme options. The exemption allows for information to be withheld if its disclosure would inhibit the imparting or commissioning of advice, or the offering or requesting of opinions or considerations, subject to the public interest test.

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