The Law Commission last week released its report The Public's Right to Know: Review of the Official Information Legislation. The Report is the product of the Law Commission's full scale review of the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) and the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 (LGOIMA) that begun in 2009. Both Acts are based on the fundamental premise that official information should be made available unless there is a good reason for withholding it.
The purpose of the review was to consider the social and economic developments since the OIA and LGOIMA were enacted, such as changes in technology, management of information and commercial context.
Overall the Report suggests that its recommendations should form a new Act. The Report does not challenge the underlying presumptions of openness but does provide extensive recommendations for legislative amendments and the development of guidance and best practice models. The Report suggests change in the following areas:
- Withholding grounds: the Report recommends the development of guidance as to how to apply the broad withholding grounds and public interest override. There are also recommendations to amend the good government, commercial information and third party information withholding grounds. Two additional withholding grounds, relating to statutory inquiries and cultural matters, are also suggested.
- Requests and resources: the Report recommends legislative change to clarify the refusal of requests when information is already publicly available to reduce the burden on agencies providing information.
- Processing requests: the Report recommends the development of guidance as to the timing for processing requests, particularly urgent requests.
- Complaints and remedies: the Report recommends alignment of the two separate processes for review under the OIA and LGOIMA. It also recommends the addition of two grounds of complaint (wrong release and unsatisfactory agency processes). The Report recommends the retention of the Government's power of veto to continue to withhold information in the face of an Ombudsmen recommendation to release it.
- Proactive release: the Report recommends the imposition of a duty on agencies to take reasonable steps to proactively release material.
- Oversight and other functions: the Report recommends that the guidance function for the OIA and LGOIMA should lie with the Ombudsmen (consistent with current practice). The Report stops short of recommending an Information Commissioner due to the current fiscal climate.
- Scope: the Report recommends that a number of agencies should be included within the scope of the OIA including the Officers of Parliament, the Parliamentary Counsel Office and administrative information from within the judiciary, Office of the Clerk of the House, the Parliamentary Service and the Speaker.
- Alignment: the Report recommends legislative alignment of the OIA and LGOIMA.
The Government will now consider the Report and its extensive recommendations for change. The Report can be accessed here.