The Eleventh Annual Report of the Office of the Information Commissioner has been published.
The Commissioner reminds us that 2008 was the ten year anniversary of the coming into effect of the Freedom of Information Act 1997, which conferred important new rights on the public in relation to the information which public bodies hold.
The Commissioner notes that the overall number of FOI requests received by public bodies in 2008 has increased for the first time since 2005, and she welcomes this increase in the use of FOI. In fact, there was an increase of 18% over the number of FOI requests received in 2007. The Commissioner attributes this new thirst for information to the current economic climate and notes that one of the consequences of the financial downturn has been a "sharp increase in public demand for transparency and accountability particularly within public service and financial institutions". She also notes a more targeted approach to FOI being taken by the media as economic difficulties intensified.
The Commissioner expresses her dissatisfaction at the provisions contained in the founding legislation of certain public bodies, such as the Central Bank and the National Treasury Management Agency, which puts these public bodies beyond the scope of the Freedom of Information Acts 1997 and 2003. As a result, members of the public have no right of access to the records of such public bodies. The Commissioner suggests that the increase in the number of FOI requests made in 2008 should prompt a re-evaluation of the function the Office of the Information Commissioner has in holding such public bodies to account.
The Commissioner takes a dim view of public bodies failing to comply with their statutory obligation to respond to FOI requests within the statutory period. She affirms that if a public body fails to comply with this obligation, the party who made the FOI request has the right to consider this to be a deemed refusal of access and to apply to the Office of the Information Commissioner for review of the deemed refusal.
The Commissioner notes that the majority of FOI requests are made by ordinary members of the public or their representatives.