As a user of Freedom of Information requests, and one who has witnessed abuses of the exemptions covering “vexatious” requests involving too much “burden”, This Writer must agree with Liberty.
Imposing fees on Freedom of Information requests would be “an extremely blunt instrument” that would limit access to justice, human rights campaigners have said.
Leading charity Liberty said it had used the act to expose injustices including discrimination under police stop and search rules and said that any reforms that downgraded Freedom of Information powers would be a “retrograde step”.
An independent commission was set up by the Government last year to review use of the Act, amid concerns around the protection of ‘sensitive’ information and warnings from public authorities that ‘vexatious’ FOI requests are inflicting a heavy time and cost burden.
However, giving evidence to the commission, Sam Hawke, an FOI specialist at Liberty, said the Act had in fact saved money by highlighting inappropriate uses of public money.
“Discussion of burden is inappropriate,” he said. “This is simply what a Government pays for, to remain open, transparent and accountable, and it’s a very, very small cost overall.
“In an area of real public importance and an era of retrenchment in access to justice through changes to legal aid, any further attempts to impose fees [or] widen exceptions would be an even more retrograde step in providing access to justice.”
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