Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides an exemption from disclosure in respect of information which is held by a public authority "with a view to its publication, by the authority or some other person, at some future date (whether determined or not)". This exemption has in-built controls. The intention to publish must have been held at the time when a request was made and it must be "reasonable in all the circumstances" that the information should be withheld from disclosure until the intended date for publication. It is also a "qualified exemption" and hence the public interest needs to be weighed for and against disclosure. During the passage of the Protection of Freedoms Bill earlier this year, Parliament declined to make any further specific exemption in respect of academic research, indicating that the existing exemption in section 22 was sufficient. Evidence was submitted, however, by various university groups to the Justice Select Committee, including Universities UK which argued that an "early release of research findings and data can have potentially serious implications for the quality and reputation of UK research, universities' competitive position nationally and internationally, and relationships with commercial partners." Concern was also expressed by universities over the Information Commissioner’s Office's representatives suggesting in a workshop that timescales of months or years for publication might not be considered favourably. The Committee accordingly recommended that the Act should be aligned to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 which specifically makes information "obtained in the course of, or derived from, a programme of research" exempt information if the programme is continuing with a view to a report or the research being published and disclosure before the date of publication "would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially the programme, the interest of any individual participating in the programme, the interests of the authority which holds the information, or the interests of [another public authority]."
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Freedom of information: publication of academic research
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