UK Liberty

Second consultation on FOIA fees

Posted in freedom of information by ukliberty on April 2, 2007

The Department for Constitutional Affairs:

The Government has drafted amended FOI fees regulations which will allow public authorities to take into account more comprehensively the work involved in dealing with an FOI request. This consultation asks for views on the draft Regulations.

The initial consultation period closed on 8 March 2007. A supplementary paper opened a second period of consultation on 29 March 2007 inviting views on the principle of amending the 2004 Regulations and also any further views on the draft Regulations themselves as set out in the consultation paper of 14 December 2006.

Closing date 21 June 2007.

You may find interesting Heather Brooke’s FOIA consultation submission. In my opinion she makes several cogent points.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information’s response to the consulation can be found on its website.

It may also be worth reading the evidence (uncorrected transcript) given by Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, to the Constitutional Affairs Committee (hat-tip UK Freedom of Information blog).

Actually, the whole transcript is worth a read, particularly for points such as these:

that figure [the £35m that Government claims is the cost of FOIA – ukliberty] is very small compared to the amount of money spent on the Central Office of Information, which is all about all the press officers, all public information films that the Government is putting out, whose budget is over 300 million, and that is information that the Government wants the public to know, but freedom of information is about the information that the public want to know, and I think it is a very good price. (Rob Evans, The Guardian)

I have never been able to understand how it takes five months to adjudicate. That seems to me a waste of time. If they are spending five months making these adjudications, that is where the waste of money on their part is and not in terms of the requests that we are putting in. (Tim Jones, World Development Movement)

I believe the existing fees regime is simple, clear and straightforward and does not appear to act as a deterrent to requesters. In overall terms, I do not consider freedom of information is proving to be burdensome for public authorities, and I think the benefits, especially in terms of improved transparency, accountability and democracy are clear. (Richard Thomas, Information Commissioner)

I am surprised that government departments and other public authorities are not using these provisions’ exclusion for vexatious requests to any great extent. If there is a problem with this sort of request, then why is it that we are not being presented time after time with refused requests on the ground that they are vexatious? If there is a real problem in this area, then I make no secret, it is my view that a more robust use of the existing exclusion would to a very significant extent address the mischief at which the new cost proposals are directed. (Richard Thomas)

Summary powers have ceased to be summary

Posted in law and order by ukliberty on April 2, 2007

I mentioned in my post on the Government’s new criminal justice policy review that it proposes more summary, preventative and civil powers to tackle criminal activity.

Here is the Lord Chief Justice on summary powers in a recent speech:

The other challenging area is that of summary criminal proceedings. The problem is that they have ceased to be summary. There has been an incremental growth in paperwork and procedural formality and of the time that the formalities take to bring a case to trial.

So that, in some parts of the country, it has been taking over six months to bring simple and straightforward criminal prosecutions to court. This is one of the factors that has been responsible for the growth of ‘diversion’ that is the administration by the police of conditional cautions or fixed penalties, so that the lesser offences do not come within the purview of the court at all.

Diversion can make sense in the case of some minor offences which do not require to be dealt with on an individual basis. The Magistrates are concerned, however, that there should not be removed from their adjudication cases that call for an individual sanction that it is designed to prevent re-offending.

I share that concern, and I am also concerned at the length of time that is elapsing before cases are brought to trial before the Magistrates.

Mark Thomas on protests near Parliament

Posted in Uncategorized by ukliberty on April 2, 2007

Recently the comedian Mark Thomas (website, Wikipedia) spoke about the ‘protests near Parliament’ section of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (read the Commons debate, OPSI for the text of the Act, Wikipedia for context, see also SpyBlog).

His description of the show:

This is the law that requires you to get permission from the police to demonstrate in Parliament Square. However, what counts as a demonstration according to the police is one person with a banner or one person with a badge standing in Parliament Square for just one minute.

Being arrested for wearing a badge or a T shirt seems a tad Kim Jong Il to me.

These are strange times and we have a strange law- its a mix of Kafkaesque absurdism and British bureaucratic prowess which has lead us to the state where a woman was threatened with arrest for having a picnic in Parliament Square. Her cake had the word PEACE iced upon it and the police insisted this counted as an unauthorised political protest.

The law has seen Maya Evans arrested and convicted for reading out the names of Iraqi and British war dead by the Cenotaph.

And on Red Nose Day I had to apply and receive permission from the police to wear a red nose in Parliament Square. The police advised me that if I wore a red nose without permission I could be arrested for an having unathorised demonstration.

The show celebrates peoples protests against this law as well as trying to show the absurd lengths it has gone to.

It is well worth a listen: funny; interesting, in terms of how such laws operate in practice; but also quite chilling in that someone can be arrested and convicted for something as inoffensive (to me, anyway) as reading aloud the names of those who died in conflict.

In my opinion the police, on the whole, come out of it well, demonstrating a sense of humour – in other words, it isn’t a police-bashing programme.

George Orwell’s flat is under surveillance

Posted in surveillance society by ukliberty on April 2, 2007

ThisIsLondon:

On the wall outside his former residence – flat number 27B – where Orwell lived until his death in 1950, an historical plaque commemorates the anti-authoritarian author. And within 200 yards of the flat, there are 32 CCTV cameras, scanning every move.

Orwell’s view of the tree-filled gardens outside the flat is under 24-hour surveillance from two cameras perched on traffic lights.

The flat’s rear windows are constantly viewed from two more security cameras outside a conference centre in Canonbury Place.

Richard Thomas reappointed as Information Commissioner

Posted in Uncategorized by ukliberty on April 2, 2007

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair (Prime Minister) | Hansard source

I am pleased to announce that The Queen has approved the re-appointment of Mr Richard Thomas as the Information Commissioner, from
29 November this year until his 60th birthday on
18 June 2009.