The government apparently advised public bodies how to evade Freedom of Information (FoI) questions relating to preparations for a no-deal Brexit, according to a leaked document. It said bodies should “neither confirm nor deny” having plans in place, because one organisation giving information could undermine government negotiations.
Note: there are “qualified exemptions” to the FoI act that mean information may not have to be released. This will be on a case-by-case judgment and if appealed, the Information Commissioner may or may not agree.
The Media Lawyers Association submitted a case for protect the ability of journalists to carry out investigations within the Data Protection Bill that was being considered in 2018. The submission explains the exemptions from normal data rules that journalists enjoy when working on stories they believe to be in the public interest. The submission quotes Lord Williams of Mostyn’s words at the time of the previous Data Protection Bill: “It is notorious that some public figures… have used their financial ability to silence, to stifle at birth almost, legitimate media inquiries into their malpractice.” Read the submission here.
MPs blocked a Labour amendment to the Data Protection Bill aimed at reopening the Leveson Inquiry into the conduct of the press – despite an impassioned plea by former leader Ed Miliband about the promises made to victims of phone hacking. Watch it here.
A reported proposal to test “digital trials”, with hearings held online, would be a threat to open justice and could confuse some defendants into pleading guilty, say critics and academics. Elsewhere, concerns have been expressed about local journalists having access to the court. Read a piece in The Guardian here.
The requirement to respond to requests under the Freedom of Information Act has been extended to the Housing Ombudsman, the Surveillance Camera Commission and several other bodies. See the full list of new entries here (scroll down a short way).
For information about all types of organisation subject to the act, click on the FoI wiki.
A House of Lords vote calling for the second part of the Leveson Inquiry to commence was denounced as an attempt to curb press freedom. The Lords also narrowly voted for an inquiry into media conduct in relation to data protection, with the threat of draconian penalties. House of Commons approval would be needed for either step to be taken. Read more from Press Gazette, and The Guardian.
‘Ping pong’ threat as government hits back on press freedom
Culture Secretary Matt Hancock criticized the Lords’ actions, saying they would be a “hammer blow” to local newspapers. But some peers threatened a ping-pong battle with the Commons if the two Houses disagreed, reported Press Gazette on 18 January 2018.
Note: this story was uploaded before the implementation of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation directive, which toughens up data protection law, from May 2018.
A reporter’s battle to see the diary of former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley went all the way to the Court of Appeal – which ordered the government to reveal nearly all of it. It covered the period when the minister was working on a major shake-up of the NHS. The case highlights several reasons why Freedom of Information is considered important to journalism and the public interest. Read more